Creativity: A requirement for family law practitioners
The heart of success during the pandemic has been the ability to find creative solutions
If nothing else, the last year has proven that people and institutions are resilient. The heart of success during the pandemic has been the ability to find creative solutions. This applies to the legal profession, like any business, but especially for family law practitioners.
COVID-19 impacted and continues to impact families on all fronts. In many relationships, this exacerbated conflict with added financial strain, stressors of remote learning for children and isolation from others (friends and co-workers alike).
COVID-19 limited avenues for relief. Family law attorneys faced delayed hearings and confronted new obstacles with virtual consultations, mediations, and hearings. Attorneys in this field also dealt with an influx of matters that needed expeditious resolution.
These unprecedented changes happened overnight demanding creativity and allowing solution oriented practitioners to stand out.
In the ever-shifting landscape, this experience proved that attorneys must think about how to help clients achieve their goals to stay a step ahead.
The examples learned through the pandemic provide a three step approach. First, it is important to assess what changes can be made to facilitate the client relationship. Second, practitioners must develop a creative avenue(s) to address the particular dispute in light of the various roadblocks. Third, the practitioner has to advocate for the client in each opportunity.
STEP 1: What changes can be made to facilitate the client-attorney relationship?
Pre-COVID-19, in person consultations were standard and expected. Clients wanted to meet their attorneys in person and determine whether it was a good fit. These consultations immediately changed to zoom meetings and telephone calls, requiring attorneys to instill the same amount of confidence in prospective clients without their fancy waiting rooms and conference tables.
The elimination of the mirage of success returned the focus to where it should be—namely, picking an advocate based on personal connection and knowledge. The virtual environment provided opportunities to both the attorneys and the clients to broaden their network by reaching individuals that they would otherwise be unable to connect to because of various inconveniences or impracticalities, such as representing clients in other cities without the added burden of travel costs.
here will always be clients who want to see the fancy office, but lawyers can now use virtual meetings to develop a broader book of business.
STEP 2: What creative solutions can be implemented?
Maintaining these new clients in the ever-shifting landscape requires an attorney to use resources within their network to identify solutions.
For example, it is imperative to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on business valuations with experts and other practitioners to understand new issues like PPP loans and state imposed restrictions (dining etc.).
While the focus now is on COVID-19, this practice is not pandemic specific, but relevant to all issues. This may involve working with a vocational expert to ascertain what issues may arise as a business opens or in developing a new income stream.
Alternatively, it will be prudent to determine how returning to work will impact children and their mental health, which may require the involvement of a mental-health professional. This is the creativity that is necessary to identify solutions for clients.
STEP 3: A new type of advocacy
COVID-19 pushed practitioners to streamline issues to limit conflict and implement creative solutions with limited court access. To accomplish this it is prudent to compare all available options, putting reasonable expectations at the forefront.
One avenue is using alternative dispute resolution in a tailored manner to eliminate immediate conflict. Again, virtual appearances allow for expedited scheduling and availability. If the dispute relates to parenting time, other resolution options include the appointment of a parenting coordinator and/or parenting coordinator/decision-maker to facilitate parent communication and resolution without contentious litigation. Court involvement may still be required, but it enables families to move forward on an interim basis.
Litigation always creates uncertainty. Thanks to COVID-19, the legal community is now accustomed to virtual hearings, which allows family law cases to be heard despite no physical presence in a courtroom. Time limitations on those hearings, however, have always been and will remain a challenge, especially considering the backlog of criminal matters. While the presentation differs drastically from virtual to in person hearings, the creative presentation of evidence and testimony in a virtual courtroom will remain imperative.
While it is undetermined whether virtual hearings will remain an option in the future, for now, it facilitates timely resolutions and results in cost savings to clients since travel time and paper exhibits have been largely eliminated
Even with such constraints on time and hearing availability, there are additional resources to enable cases to be heard, like arbitration. C.R.S. 13-3-111 and C.R.C.P. 122 allow the appointment of a private judge, which provides more scheduling options. When finances are available, this is an excellent option where judicial intervention is necessary to reach a timely resolve while not waiving appellate rights.
Changes will perpetually occur. In the near future, we will see increased vaccinations and the slow re-opening that will inevitably change protocols that were implemented over the last year. It is imperative for family law practitioners to continue to implement creative solutions in light of those changes. It is our duty to help families work together for the betterment of their children.
Joseph M. Maher is an experienced attorney that focuses his practice on all areas of family law. Joe understands that each client’s situation and goals are unique. By using his years of experience negotiating and trying cases, Joe helps his clients choose the best course of action in their domestic relations disputes.
(This sponsored content is provided by Griffiths Law PC)