Setting up Your Family Law Case Workflows for Scalability & Success
February 27, 2023
Automating parts of your family law firm’s workflows can help increase productivity and profitability, attract and retain employees, reduce errors and roadblocks in production, and create uniformity in processes. Utilizing workflows in a family law case means you can assign tasks and not worry about whether the paralegal followed through when you ask them to send out those discovery requests.
Mapping out workflows (regardless if you have software to support you in automating some of your to-dos) is both beneficial and exciting. For legal professionals working in family law, setting up case workflows is essential for a successful practice. You’ll also enjoy the time back in your day when your legal case management software automates some of the tedious manual tasks that are a burden in your day. However, setting up workflows across all matter types requires thoughtfulness and planning. But the payoff is well worth it.
The biggest challenge to family law firms is striking the right balance between standardizing matters and allowing necessary flexibility. Not all matters need the same workflows (e.g., a prenup versus an enforcement action), and not all matters will require the same amount of billable hours.
Let’s break down some of your staff’s everyday activities, regardless of the family law case type, and a few you’d need specifically for dissolutions. Effective workflows give you the control required over each step in the process.
Why consider using workflows at your family law firm?
To improve efficiency and productivity, family law firms should consider introducing workflows to manage and scale operations. Workflows can help train incoming staff and alleviate stressors on current staff to keep track of it all. It also helps ensure that everything runs smoothly in any given client matter. By having standardized procedures, firms can ensure that their processes are consistent, accurate, and effective, enabling them to maximize profits and attract and retain employees.
Increase the quality of your work
Enhance quality assurance with consistent and accurate output for each matter, saving time and reducing the risk of errors or compliance issues. Assigning action items to specific staff minimizes the risk of miscommunication or missed deadlines. Or, using templated legal documents for each case will reduce errors and increase the speed of document production when paired with auto-filling features.
Attract and retain employees
Standardizing processes can also help with employee retention, providing clear instructions and expectations for each task, promoting better organization and communication between staff and departments, and increasing productivity. A unified platform for work throughout the company helps create a shared experience and expectations regarding task execution and customer service delivery. In turn, proper processes and technology boost morale, engagement, and job satisfaction. Additionally, shareholders are typically only involved in reviews and approvals at the required points, optimizing attorney and staff usage. Notifications and alerts ensure staff members take prompt action while eSignature integration secures all necessary approvals. If your staff still relies on post-it notes to remind them about deadlines and tasks, it is time to upgrade your processes.
Measure operations and profitability
Automating parts of your family law workflow can increase profits, as it streamlines operations and efficiently uses resources. Standardizing work processes reduces operational costs and lowers repetition or wasteful activities for increased productivity. Legal workflow software offers easy integration and customization options, with simple interfaces for implementing, tracking and managing case management workflows and form-building with embedded business logic. You can dictate and monitor when and who on your team is supposed to propound discovery, what documents need to be sent to the client to close out their file, etc. You can be creative with workflows and completely customize them to your firm. Also, with reporting tools, firms have transparency into case management processes across teams, practice areas, or the firm for maximum efficiency.
Workflow challenges for family law firms
Setting up and sustaining efficient workflows at family law firms is a unique challenge. For each matter, attorneys must be able to adapt their process to the specific characteristics of the issue while also ensuring uniformity. Equally as important is establishing a consistent series of actions and steps to follow every time, whether for a single case or across the entire firm. While consistency can be difficult when different matters require different approaches and statutes constantly change, it’s better to include a step you sometimes skip than to overlook and forget it. Therefore, it is essential to carefully consider how to organize procedures and create consistency without limiting the flexibility needed to accommodate all cases.
Furthermore, staff members may initially resist changes when introduced to new processes, so taking the time to champion these critical initiatives and explaining how they will benefit everyone involved is vital to successful implementation. If done correctly, implementing workflows into your family law firm can enable success in both providing quality services and increasing profitability.
How to set up your family law case workflows
The process for a family law firm’s matter lifecycle begins when a client reaches out to the firm for possible representation. During this initial stage, firms sometimes use a lead management tool or an after-hours virtual receptionist service. Then, the firm performs a conflict check during intake and uses search tools to save conflict checks, along with relevant case information (e.g., existing cause number, county of residence, etc.
During the initial consultation phase, the firm can use tasks/workflows and calendar tools to automate scheduling, obtain the fee agreement (including an e-signature software), and collect the retainer payment. Once the client is retained and staff is assigned to the matter, the firm can launch workflows for most anything, from discovery to filing emergency orders.
Throughout the process of each matter, your staff can launch various workflows for each matter stage. Templatizing each workflow portion lets your team assess and judge the necessary steps to advocate for your clients successfully.
Opening a new matter
After opening a new matter, family law firms must undertake various crucial steps to organize the case efficiently.
On the start date of a matter:
- Draft, sign, and send the Fee Agreement (sometimes also called an Engagement Agreement).
- Add the following details to your case management software:
- Pre-decree case details – keep track of important court information, service dates and methods, petition/response deadlines, and document due dates.
- Pre-decree marriage details – keep track of the marriage type (e.g., common law or legal), marriage date/location, separation date, and filing date.
- Custody, support, or visitation details – keep track of all details, including counter-petition file date, service date/method, and response due date, as well as pertinent information regarding the children of the marriage.
A week into opening a matter:
- Confirm that your firm received the fee agreement and retainer payment
- Draft Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (note that the naming convention varies by jurisdiction)
- Draft the relevant Cover Sheet or any mandatory filing forms dictated by your Court
- If applicable, draft Summons and Motion for Special Process Server or Service by Sheriff
- Send your certified pleadings to your process server and effectuate service
Two weeks after opening a matter:
- Confirm and file the file-stamped Proof of Service
Initial concerns and filing temporary orders
In some jurisdictions, you will have standing orders that automatically apply to every new family law case. Other courts will require you to request an Ex Parte Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”), which will eventually become standard injunctions. These orders are undertaken to secure your client’s interests and preserve the status quo during a divorce proceeding. Because they protect assets from being sold, transferred, or lost until a permanent judgment can be reached, your team needs to move fast on these, especially if they require a judge’s signature and subsequent service on the opposing party to be effective.
When opening a new matter, include a task to launch a workflow specifically for TROs. That way, your team can execute the drafting, signing, and filing any emergency orders.
Upon opening a family law matter, take these steps:
- Assess whether the Court provides for automatic Standing Orders or whether you will need to request an Ex Parte TRO from the Court
- Determine whether you have a basis for extraordinary relief in your TRO (relief sought would be beyond the standard TRO language), based upon certain conditions
- Determine whether the Court requires or suggests that you file an Affidavit with your TRO request
- Draft, sign, and file motions seeking your TRO.
- Check to see if the Judge signed the TRO, and serve it upon the opposing party
Creating Interrogatories for financial discovery
For financial discovery during a divorce, family law firms should take these steps:
On the start date of the workflow:
- Complete your client’s Financial Information Statement
- Draft your Request for Interrogatories
- Create a blank Financial Affidavit for the other side
28 days after the start of the workflow:
- Check in to see If the Discovery Request was completed
- If needed, draft a deficiency letter to resolve outstanding discovery requests
Ten days after drafting/sending the deficiency letter:
- Draft and file a Motion to Compel Discovery and send it to opposing counsel
- Once a hearing date has been secured, draft and file a Notice of Hearing for your Motion and send it to opposing counsel
Preparing for family law mediation
Prepping for mediation or hearing involves a lot of communication and organization. You should prepare for mediation like you prepare for trial. To ensure that everything is covered during the mediation, follow these steps:
- Send a list of possible mediators to opposing counsel
- Confirm the approved mediator’s availability
- Coordinate with the client and other parties to arrange a mediation date
- Add the mediation date to your calendar
- Schedule mediation prep with the client
- Assign the location for the mediation.
- Confirm who is responsible for paying the mediator’s fee, and cut a firm check if necessary
- Confirm you have the client’s up-to-date financials
- Confirm your Inventory spreadsheet has current figures
Finalizing a Dissolution (or Prove-up)
For finalizing a dissolution (or prove-up) in a family law firm, take these steps:
- If your jurisdiction requires it, at the start of the workflow, draft a Notice of Prove-Up and confirm completion of any additional requirements such as Proof of Parenting Focus/Mediation Order, Parenting Class Certificate, and Online Parenting Class
- If applicable, ensure both sides have signed a Mediated Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan (if necessary), and that it was filed with the Court
- Draft Final Order
- Draft Judge’s Prove-Up Sheet, if applicable
- Circulate Final Order for approval
- File fully-executed Final Order and corresponding QDROs and Child Support documents, if applicable
- Communicate with the client where and when the prove-up will be taking place and what questions you will be asking of them
For family law firms to seamlessly finalize billing during the lifespan of a case, use software that integrates time tracking and billing. You can utilize the following workflow:
- At the end of each billing cycle, draft bills and expenses for each client and case
- The assigned attorneys should review and adjust costs before approving the bill
- Create a final version of the bill to send to clients for payment
- Send follow-up reminders regarding late payments from the accounting team when applicable
Take control of your family law workflows
Family lawyers and their legal teams are faced with difficult challenges when it comes to workflow management. By implementing workflows for family law cases, firms can increase the quality of their work, attract and retain employees, and measure operations and profitability. Best practice suggests creating workflows for routine activities like opening a new matter, initial consultations and filing Temporary Restraining Orders, creating interrogatories for discovery, preparing for mediation, and finalizing a case. Family law firms should take control of their workflows to ensure an organized and efficient workplace, and Smokeball can help with that.
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