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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Family Law

At Reape-Rickett Law Firm in Valencia, the family matters practice had an overall drop in revenue last year, mostly due to court closures during stay-at-home orders rather than a drop in business, said Partner James Reape.

Many family law lawyers weren’t able to collect since cases were still open in the courts. As a result, law firms had more business due to fracturing relationships from the pandemic, but less revenue.Reape believes his firm’s increase in business can also be chalked up to its presence in the market, a continuation of nurtured relationships with local nonprofits for referrals.“We continued to sponsor events, we continued to give away a lot of advice to communities to stay relevant,” he explained. “We expanded into the pandemic. If I wasn’t in court, I may as well be giving a seminar.”The firm, No. 31 on the Business Journal’s list of Law Firms, also received PPP funding and adopted a workshare program for some employees, an alternative to layoffs.“I know some (family law) firms had to dismiss staff. We dismissed nobody. We were able to keep our team intact so that when business started flowing again, we had a fully trained team,” said Reape.Hard shutdowns created a backlog in family law cases, with court appearances eventually finding their way to a virtual format later in the year. Reape saw a herculean effort made by the Los Angeles County court system to “scrunch” a multi-year technology initiative into a single year, in order to have audio and visual components available for cases.“L.A. is an incredibly large system; I think it’s hundreds of court rooms and dozens of court houses. They did respond during that time, they were still handling things, domestic violence,” said Reape. “They had to redo their technology to first bring in the audio leg of it, to start having hearings, but lawyers and other parties are none too thrilled when they’re on a phone call, because how do you judge witness credibility? The court worked even further to develop video capability.”And when the courts were open for in-person appearances, witnesses still had to wear a mask while on the stand, posing a bit of a conundrum for family law practices that want to plead their case in person. For example, cross-examining a witness may fall flat if you – and the judge – can only see half of the person’s face.Reape said many of the cases he’s seeing right now involve requests for modifications to court orders. If a parent lost a job and can’t pay child support, Reape said, they request to readjust court orders based on conditions.“Right now, we’re almost at a normal,” added Reape.

“I’ve heard in seminars, attorneys complaining, how would they make up that billable time. … Our firm is not really about how many billable hours we have. It’s about the efficiencies and the fact that we can be efficient working remotely.”– Amy Stulick

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