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Running a Family Law Practice:
KEEPING YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE
& YOUR SANITY
BY: ELISABETH M. EDWARDS
W ANZER E DWARDS, P C
The A-B-Cs of Success
A-B-Cs of
Success
Not quite as easy as 1-23, D0-Re-Mi, baby you
and me . . .
A is for Accessibility
 Providing accessibility to clients and opposing
counsel can help you solve problems before they
spiral out of control
 Frequently the #1 complaint re: prior attorneys is “he
never returns my calls,” or “I never got a copy of the
Order/letter/email.”
 It means a dedicated email address, phone number,
voicemail and fax number
 Response time to emails and phone calls should be
ASAP and preferably within 1 business day even if
just checking in
B is for Boundaries
 Be accessible, but keep client-related work within
business hours
 Have a work-only cell phone
 Do NOT answer the phone in the evening or on
weekends unless in very rare circumstances
 Be present for the important people who are waiting
at home for you
C is for Credibility
 The 3 Cs – Clients, Opposing Counsel and the Court
 You cannot believe everything a client tells you
 Remain neutral in your framing of the situation to
your opposing counsel and to the Court
 NO ONE CLIENT IS WORTH LOSING YOUR
LICENSE OR RESPECT WTIHIN THE LEGAL
COMMUNITY
D is for Drama
 Your job as an family law attorney is to try to diffuse
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the difficult emotions, not add to them
Bring your clients off the ledge and remind them of
the end game
Rather than filing a scathing pleading, ask yourself
how can I solve this with 3 phone calls?
Your Mantra: “Is this moving the file forward?”
If it’s not actually a “legal” issue, diffuse and move on
E is for Efficient & Economical
 Streamlining necessary evils of the practice
whenever possible, e.g. web-based billing software,
cloud storage, emailing communications & invoices
 What will make me better, faster & more efficient?
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Smart phone usage is a must for avoiding email build-up and
calendaring
Billing on the go
Check scanning
 Getting “bang for your buck” with products and
advertising; how do clients reach you?
 Providing “steak service on a hamburger budget”
F is for Fiscally Responsible
 Requirement #1: Written budget
 Review budget as you enter Q4 – How did we do? Where do
we need to adjust?
 Book-keeping software
 Starting small and working up to where you want to
be without going broke
 Need someone to audit your books, need a tax
preparer, need good corporate documents
G is for GETTING PAID
 No free consultations!
 Start the conversation in the initial consultation and keep having it
throughout the representation, e.g. “do you want to spend your
attorney fees for a hearing on this when we already have a hearing
scheduled?”
 Billing twice a month keeps clients more engaged with where they
are; don’t get in the hole as often
 Billing via email, payments over web / body of emails, accepting
credit cards
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Old “retainer” a/k/a “advanced fee” system versus credit card authorizations
 Detailed invoices show value to clients, e.g. where did my money
go?
 Clients will not value work they get for free; need skin in the game
H is for Help
 Ask for, pay for, hire help when you need it
 Get smart about knowing what you don’t know
 You will “pay” for it later if you don’t pay for it now
 Folks to consider:
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Assistant / Receptionist
Tax preparer
Accountant
Website designer
Marketing / Advertising / Art
“The computer guy”
When you really need an Associate
Think outside the box – Who do you know? Just ask!
I is for Insurance & IOLTA
 Malpractice insurance is a requirement
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Not as expensive as you might think
Often a requirement to be part of a referral network, such as Indy
Lawyer Finder
 Consider premises liability insurance as well
 Health insurance?
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PEO vs. Individual plan
 IOLTA account for client trust funds – may cause
accounting headaches, but it’s a requirement
 Must have an IOLTA account for “unearned” fees plus an
operating account for fees earned; cannot have clients
paying directly into an IOLTA
 But need to move funds quickly upon payment, etc.
J is for JLAP
 Judges & Lawyers Assistance Program
 Not just for attorneys with alcohol & substance abuse
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problems
Depression, burnout
Winding up a practice
Assistance with ethical dilemmas
Surrogate attorney issues
K is for Knowledge
 Get a mentor, a “let me ask / tell you this off the
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record” person
IBA Senior Lawyer “Safe Ask” program
Listserv member
Stay current on CLEs – one of the best ways to learn
is to do and to teach
Difference between law, strategy and human element
Call ahead before getting involved “out of county”
L is for Location
 Location, location, location!
 Where you are can impact your bottom line – these
are fixed expenses
 Where do you need to be?
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If you are a part-time PD, need to be close to the courthouse
If you serve the indigent or elderly, perhaps a bus route
 Who is your client and how often do they need to see
you?
 Do you want free parking or accessible parking?
 You really can get more than you think in this market
M is for Marketing
 How do your clients find you?
 When in doubt, do something for free; if people want you to join a
“network” or have you pay THEM for you to speak or provide
content, think twice
 Cross-marketing opportunities
 Anything but the yellow pages
 You MUST have a presence on the internet
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Quality of website can have a direct correlation to how clients and opposing
counsel see YOU and your work
 Word-of-mouth is your very best resource! Thank Aunt Sally and
Neighbor Bob for suggesting you, even if the client doesn’t retain
 Track your referral sources – if you haven’t received a client from it
that will pay for the service/referral network/advertising, don’t do it
again
N is for NO
 Don’t take every client
 Watch out for some red flags
 And don’t stay in on every case – maintain credibility
by getting out if clients lie, don’t follow your advice,
etc.
 Don’t accept every appointment to a board, to teach
a seminar, speak to a class, or have a student shadow
 Don’t feel compelled to volunteer for everything,
whether legal or non-legal
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We can’t stop taking charge
Let people who are not running a business do the heavy lifting
O is for Office Space
 Versus Location
 Do not need to start with $1M
 What feelings are you trying to invoke?
 Inviting and comfortable
 Very high-end
 Thrift vs. just plain old
 What activities will you be doing at the office? What
will clients be doing?
 Client areas vs. “Employee only” areas
 Do you need a decorator?
P is for Professionalism
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As a follow-up to credibility . . .
It is possible to advocate for your client and maintain collegiality and friendship with your
opposing counsel
NO SNEAK ATTACKS!
Act like you’ve been here before, even if you haven’t
Handling yourself in a friendly, approachable way with opposing parties, staff, court
personnel goes farther than your expensive suit
You never get a second chance to make a first impression
Keep your cool – when in doubt, breathe!
Learn to respectfully disagree; but tell me why you advised your client to do X
Respond when opposing counsel asks for something, even if it’s to say you can’t respond
Also need to handle delicate and sensitive information very carefully with clients; they are
telling you secrets they haven’t told anyone else
Remember that people are watching
Consider your audience
There is a right way and a very wrong way to relay delicate information
Think – What if the other party were my sister? Would I want this in a public document?
Q is for Quality
 Do quality work, all the time
 These documents can be public; your name is on
them for all time
 Your clients are paying for hours of your time; they
deserve to have a good quality document
 Spellcheck and re-read before sending; all credibility
will be lost if you have misspellings and incorrect
words
 Your clients can be impacted if you go too fast –
deadlines missed, more attorney fees, amendments
needed
R is for Research Tools
 The listserv is not for research
 You must have an electronic research tool available
to you
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Old standbys – Lexis, Westlaw
Discounts on ISBA Casemaker, IBA forms online
 Not only for statutes and caselaw, but other
sourcebooks for forms
 Helpful to maintain your own documents in
searchable format so you don’t reinvent the wheel
every single time
S is for Service
 Service to the profession
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Bar association – seminars, committees
Community – law school/students, organizations that need legal
advisors
Does it help someone and make you feel good at the end of the day?
How can you show what you know, help others AND everyone goes
home happy?
 Service to your customers, your clients
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Most of your referrals will come in some way from former clients
who had great experiences
There are many choices in this area, and not every personality is
compatible; of those that are, what stands out is quality work and
customer service
The client is not always right, but they don’t have to be wrong
T is for Time
 Track it, bill it, guard it
 Your time is the service you are providing; do not shortchange
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yourself
You cannot do free consultations
How am I going to track my time? Where am I going to enter it?
To use minimums or not?
Do not continue to put time into a case when there is no money
unless it is pro bono from the beginning
Be on time for Court! Respect client’s time as well
Block out periods of time to “catch up” after being in Court, out of
town, etc.
Always overestimate how long it will take you to complete
something
You MUST save time for yourself or your family
U is for Understand Your Role
 You are the attorney, not a mental health
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professional, not an expert
Your role as officer of the Court is to keep it simple
“Get in, get settled and get out of the way”
Even if the case is ugly, your goal should be
resolution of some sort; you are not going to be
holding your client’s hand at the Sunday evening
parenting time exchange or after the case is over
Leave it better than you found it, but remember that
is not always possible
V is for Vacation
 You MUST take one to avoid burnout
 So long as you block out the time far enough in advance and
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protect it from any “intrusions,” you will be able to leave
Contrary to your belief, YOU REALLY ARE NOT THAT
IMPORTANT
Your clients will survive
Notify clients ahead of time, leave an out of office message on
your VM and autoreply on email
If you must, check your email on your smart phone once per
day at a designated time
If you have no assistant to hold down the fort, see about a
trusted attorney/colleague/friend acting as a temporary
surrogate
W is for Workload Management
 Your mantra should be that you can always take
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more, until you cannot
Find the tipping point for you to give good service
and provide quality work
When is it time for an assistant? How can I work
smarter, not harder or longer?
Look at your work-week, not just the day of
Work your cases BEFORE they go to trial; don’t just
put out the fire that’s right in front of you
You should NEVER have 4 hearings in a day . . .
X is for X-amine Your Priorities
 Do you have the practice you want to have?
 What is your goal for starting a practice?
 You really don’t have to give up your family to start a
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firm
Areas to consider: home, work, mind, body, spirit
Answer the question, “If I could wave a magic wand and
have the perfect practice, it would look like . . .”
Visualize
Be specific. Not just “I want to work less,” but “I want to
be able to finish my work at 6:00pm so I can attend my
son’s soccer games without being on the phone the whole
time.”
Y is for YES
 Say yes to lunches, inquiries, new opportunities
 Yes to non-legal invitations offered by colleagues
 Yes to YOU:
 Taking care of yourself with a massage
 Making yourself go to the cocktail reception that you’ll have
fun at anyway
 Building in fitness opportunities
 Put yourself on your calendar
 You will not remember the night you stayed late at
work or went in on Saturday, but you’ll remember
your daughter’s ballet recital
Z is for Zen
 Find your Zen
 “Serenity Now!”
 You need to be able to leave it at the office;
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compartmentalize it and be entirely present for the
people at home
Your cup must be full to continue to fill others
What makes you happiest? Don’t overlook doing that
and nurturing non-legal aspects of yourself
Doing something else that doesn’t require a J.D. makes
you better at what you do
Find God, find golf, find something
Breathe
Misc. Final Thoughts
 Get over having a June Cleaver spotless house
 Try to build in dinner for yourself – get a crock-pot, pick
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up pre-made “homemade” food from the deli counter
Make it a goal to schedule 1 massage per month, or 1
pedicure, or 1 round of golf, whatever gives you
relaxation
You can only do so much – you are only one person!
Be gentle with yourself
Stay in the moment and remember to breathe
Make a list, check it twice
Questions?
You can find me getting my zen on at . . .
Wanzer Edwards, PC
55 Monument Circle, Ste. 1055
Indianapolis, IN 46204
ph 317.454.8088 | 317.454.8089
[email protected]
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