John Espley details 5 key challenges currently being faced by family law firms and advises on developments in technology that have enabled these challenges to be overcome, enabling effective working and continued provision of this valuable service.
The challenges posed by the pandemic have caused law firms to reappraise the way they work and how they integrate with their clients. One area of law particularly affected is family law. The pressures on people suddenly confined to spending more time at home together have led to divorce applications and break-ups skyrocketing across the UK.
Challenge 1: Maintaining client contact
Many of those seeking the help of family lawyers during lockdown are in a vulnerable position. Often it is not the right time or place to make private phone calls, so it is necessary for firms to provide their clients a simple, effective, and alternative way for them to get in contact.
Providing a digital gateway and enabling your services to be accessed through an online platform is essential, whether that be via your existing website or a dedicated platform that offers your client self-service capabilities, these portals are assuring client privacy, providing access to valuable information and services and allowing the vulnerable to get in touch when it is the right, and safest time for them to do so.
Challenge 2: Marketing family law services
With less social interaction caused by restrictions, we have seen a drop in referral rates for many practices as prospective clients are unable to speak to friends offering referral advice.
To maintain a regular flow of incoming business lawyers are having to work much harder and invest more of their time in self-promotion.
Given the last year, a key selling point of firms at present is if they can offer fully digitalised support, servicing the needs of the client remotely. If this is the case, they must make this central to their promotion. It will win them business and help the firm stand out from the competition. At LEAP we invest over £12 million per year developing software that integrates seamlessly with leading providers in their field so that firms can offer their clients tools that provide them a complete and uninterrupted remote service such as video conferencing, secure and personal document sharing and appointment scheduling during these challenging times.
Additionally, you must review your website. Does it look professional? Has it become dated? Is it easy for clients to submit an enquiry? Does it communicate your services well enough? Does it get across the identity that you want to present for your practice? Having spoken to a number of family lawyers recently it was interesting to hear how clients value empathy above everything else. If your firm takes pride in listening to, and understanding the needs of your clients, responding appropriately to their individual requirements and concerns, this is something that you must stress in all your promotion.
We recently launched our own accreditation scheme, the Family Best Practice Standard, which encourages firms to achieve a recognised level of service excellence through their use of our software which ultimately provides real value to the end-user in terms of the service they receive. For firms that have already achieved this accreditation it becomes a fantastic marketing tool, a certification mark that assures new clients that you are who you say you are, and provides them with confidence that they are dealing with a lawyer who will provide an experienced and competent service.
Challenge 3: Adapting to legal changes
As practitioners are working remotely, keeping abreast of regular changes in legislation can be a challenge. For our firms, a real benefit has been the availability of a large library of up-to-date family forms and precedents accessible within the software, as well as our integration with By Lawyers. This means family law practitioners need worry less about compliance and benefit from real-time access to current legislation, practice changes and court guidance when working from home.
Challenge 4: Simplifying the Financial Statement, the Form E
By way of family form automation, a welcome addition for family lawyers is our latest development streamlining the production of the Form E. Traditionally a very time-consuming process, we have created a new solution within LEAP that simplifies the completion of this usually complicated document, meaning firms spend less time chasing for client information. The real game changer for them is that this powerful app enables the client to complete the details of the form themselves, in their own time, online, and hence with less margin for error. Once complete, this data synchronises with LEAP and enables the production of a Form E for the client to sign electronically before submission to court.
Challenge 5: Virtual court hearings
Although more streamlined, the move to virtual court hearings has created several issues. Family lawyers have had to adapt quickly to different ways of doing things and technology has played a big part in enabling them to do this. As well as mastering video conferencing technology (don’t be like the American “cat” lawyer!) family lawyers have had to get to grips with e-bundles.
Employing a viable tool that enables bundles to be created in line with court requirements has become essential. This fast adoption of e-bundling has eliminated the need for traditional, time-consuming hard-copy bundles, printed in bulk, duplicated and couriered to all parties involved. The pandemic has greatly advanced the way that bundles are collated and used, bringing a long-term improvement to the court process.
Helping firms to adapt quickly to online court hearings, over the past year we have developed integrations with user-friendly, web-based bundling solutions so that lawyers can, using the information held in LEAP, create professional, presentable, and cost-effective e-bundles in minutes not hours.
For the client, having to go to court can often cause anxiety, so remote hearings are welcomed by some as it takes the emotional sting out of the hearing and removes face to face encounters. However for the family lawyer, although a more efficient use of their time, attending court ‘remotely’ requires instant access to the latest client, matter and bundle information from one convenient location, accessible when needed, which thankfully for them, LEAP affords.
The last year has been incredibly challenging for the profession and it’s vital for family lawyers, especially when working remotely, to continue to provide a comprehensive service to their clients. At LEAP we are committed to developing software to help lawyers help their clients and we offer a fully remote implementation to helping law firms start doing so as quickly and as effectively as possible.
John Espley is CEO of LEAP legal software.