From divorce to family law and courtroom litigation, local attorneys say there are a multitude of hot topics on the horizon, largely the result of an increasingly digital world, shifts in societal norms and an ever-changing economy.
In an inescapably electronic world, Alisse Camazine of Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal says 2014 cases will be rife with social media evidence. “Electronic communication is becoming more and more of an issue. There’s Instant Chat, Snapchat, Facebook…and there’s always going to be more of them.” Her firm is seeing a skyrocketing number of divorce cases where electronic communication is a major portion of the evidence pool. And as it throws a wrench into so many cases, that results in changes to the way lawyers are practicing, she says. “Electronic communication always is going to be a difficult hurdle.”
Kirk Stange of Stange Law Firm says paternity is the big new case clogging dockets. “Paternity cases are the 21st century divorce,” he declares. With 40 percent of kids being born out of wedlock, parents who split up more often have paternity issues. “Each year, we see more and more paternity cases. It’s the most growing area of family law.”
Erik Solverud of Spencer Fane notes there's a strong uptick in shareholder and partner disputes. “We are seeing these cases more and more now. More claims are being filed, sometimes leading to litigation and other times arbitrations, based on what the shareholder agreements might have in place,” Solverud explains.
Like many other service-oriented industries, the unstable economy is affecting law firms, according to Sam Hais of Hais, Hais, Goldberger and Lambson. Whether it is a job shortage or a fear of inflation, people are looking to save dollars and time when it comes to hiring an attorney. “People are feeling compelled to seek out the best value. They are looking for services that arise from lawyers who have tried-and-true experience, rather than going for the lowest-cost lawyers who are doing every type of law practice.” Clients are conducting thorough interviews with multiple potential attorneys to avoid wasting time with the wrong lawyer, Hais adds.
Another strong trend in family law is the emergence of more firms with certified divorce financial analysts, Hais continues. Such professionals can provide legal services that include counseling and strategic planning related to financial analysis. “Financial planning isn’t just a matter of getting ready for divorce, it involves five to 10 years of planning, which can be done if the law firm has a trained person to offer those services,” Hais notes.
In an effort to escape the backlog of an overworked judicial system, clients also are seeking out the services of special masters, Hais says. The attorneys can sit in as a private judge and make recommendations on a case. “Rather than having to wait months—or sometimes even years—for a trial, if clients can agree on a special master, the case doesn’t get dragged on and on,” Hais explains.
Despite a variety of changes in local law offices and courtrooms, Hais says finding the most experienced and efficient lawyer at the lowest cost remains the ultimate goal for both clients and firms.