Disclaimer: These recommendations for apps reflect the opinions of the authors only and are not official recommendations of the ABA or the ABA Family Law Section.
In this Digital Age, most of us cannot imagine our lives without our smartphones, tablets, and computers. Every day, we rely on word processors, databases, email, and texting. In our law firm, we also enthusiastically use apps because we believe that they benefit our clients, help us in our daily practice of law, and enable us to run our firm more successfully.
Here are our top ten favorite apps for family law practitioners and their clients. These are compatible with most smartphones and tablets, and a few are accessible via the Web, too.
1. Our Family Wizard
This co-parenting and divorce app for clients acts as a hub for communication. It includes features such as a calendar from which one can request a modification or swap in parenting time; message boards that check the tone of a message before it is sent and that house secured sent and received messages that cannot be lost or unilaterally changed; an info bank to store or share files; an expense log to track and split expenses; a journal to record quick notes and observations; and a notification center that alerts the user to activity, details of events, and communications. Additionally, children and related third parties can be granted access to certain features of the app, such as the calendar and message boards. See https://www.ourfamilywizard.com.
A new, up and coming app that offers similar services is Fayr. Launched by single parents Michael Daniels and Gwyneth Paltrow, the app notably has a geo-location log allowing for convenient and verifiable check-ins that document one’s presence at a GPS-verified location at a specific date and time. User-friendly and affordable, Fayr increases transparency to help create better co-parenting experiences. See https://www.fayr.com/app.
Not only are these two apps beneficial to clients but they also provide family law professionals opportunities to review client communications that are accurately documented and that can be subpoenaed and used by the court as evidence of meeting (or not meeting) parental obligations.
2. Google Calendar
Google Calendar enables individuals to create multiple calendars and also add friends’ calendars into one large, color-codable, master calendar. Reservations, flights, appointments, and other items can be automatically added from a connected Gmail email account. See https://www.google.com/calendar.
Like Google Calendar, Cozi Family Calendar provides family organization for co-parenting clients. The Cozi app is also color-coded, enabling users to view their entire family’s calendar or filter to a single individual’s schedule. Additionally, the app has a journal feature to help each parent know what their children were up to while they were with their other parent. It also offers shopping and to-do list capabilities that can help coordinate shopping duties and keep track of each parent’s financial responsibilities for such items as school supplies or medical expenses. See http://www.cozi.com.
While not applicable in the majority of cases, SoberLink is essential when alcohol abuse is involved. FDA approved, the SoberLink System enables remote alcohol monitoring via Breathalyzers that contain facial recognition technology, connect wirelessly to a cloud-based Web portal, and are tamperproof. Following an individual’s use of the SoberLink device, interested parties specified as contacts receive reports of his or her testing activities. Specifically, in custody and co-parenting cases, SoberLink has proved critical in assuring the opposing parent that a child is safe during parenting time and that no alcohol consumption has taken place that would put the child at risk. Further, SoberLink has an accuracy level of plus or minus 0.005 blood alcohol concentration, and the detailed testing reports have been proven in court for over five years now. See https://www.soberlink.com.
Traditionally a home-finding real estate app, Zillow is extremely informative in the valuation of clients’ homes and can help clients minimize the need for appraisal. The “Zestimate” approximates a home’s value, including how much the property would typically rent for per month, based on comparable homes in the area and local tax assessments. The median Zestimate error is about 4.6 percent across the United States, and, although the Zestimate is not a formal appraisal, the data provides a general ballpark-sense of a property’s value. Further, the app offers refinancing cost estimates and other financial indicators of a property’s worth.
In creating settlement offers, requesting alimony and support payments, or disclosing financials to the opposing party, Zillow’s various apps are a good starting point for home valuations. See https://www.zillow.com.
LawPay, the premier payment processor for the legal industry, has partnered with the ABA to offer ABA members the ability to accept credit cards. A member benefit also offered by many state, local, and specialty bars, LawPay offers custom payment pages to which users can attach invoices, embed the payment page link into an email, or even have a link to the page on a firm’s website. Moreover, clients can easily pay attorney fees by any major credit card or e-check, and they can be charged via scheduled payments. The software guarantees funds are not comingled and ensures IOLTA compliance by depositing client funds correctly into trust accounts. With a quick billing feature, LawPay simplifies the billing process and aids in the receipt of attorney fees. See https://lawpay.com.
Bill4Time is one of various time-tracking and billing services designed specifically for law. ADP is another time-attendance and payroll service that has a functional app used by firms.
The Bill4Time app contains a notable timing feature that allows for input of the client, project, activity, and description, ensuring that recorded time is allocated properly. Upon starting the timer, labor and billable hours are automatically recorded, and there is an additional column for travel time, which can be manually entered into the program. Expenses and receipts can also be logged and synced immediately by using your phone’s camera or picture gallery. The app also has a client Rolodex feature from which users can easily call or email clients with one click, and the timer continues to run despite use of the other features of the app or a completely different app. For accurate billing and accountability, apps like Bill4Time are the way to go. See https://www.bill4time.com.
A service of PayPal, Venmo allows for easy money transfers between individuals, co-parents and co-workers alike. The transfers are also free when the money is received by or sent from a Venmo account balance or a debit card or bank account linked to the app. Both payments and requests for payment can be simply made by typing in the names of the recipient or recipients, Venmo username, phone number, or email address, and inputting the amount to be paid or received. Users can also add a description such as “Alimony Payment” or “After-work Drinks,” which creates a record of what was charged or paid to each Venmo user. Venmo is also now accepted almost everywhere online where PayPal is accepted. And not to fear: the money transferred into a Venmo account can be transferred out to a debit card or bank account. See https://venmo.com.
Another well-liked money transfer app is Ria. Funds can be transferred directly into the recipient’s account or made available for cash pickup at a participating Ria location. Ria also serves over 100 countries and territories and is therefore a great option for clients transferring money internationally. See https://www.riamoneytransfer.com.
8. Microsoft Office
Office components for Apple, Android, and Windows systems include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote, while OneDrive and Skype can be downloaded as well. Now emails can be sent and documents edited on the go. With the ability to work from your phone or tablet, there is no longer an excuse for leaving a file at the office—unless that file isn’t saved within the Microsoft Office suite. See https://www.office.com.
Created to keep files in one easily accessible location, Dropbox has expanded to become a business productivity tool that encourages collaboration. While there are various plans, Dropbox essentially holds everything uploaded to it in a secured “cloud” from which documents and photos can be accessed from any location. Ever since Dropbox partnered with Microsoft in 2014 and Adobe in 2015, users have been able to access, edit, and share files from their Microsoft Office apps and easily work with PDF files.
Attorneys love Dropbox for the ability to retrieve and work on files from anywhere that has an Internet connection or cellular service. Version histories, folder management, link permissions, user sign-ins, and other administrative, sharing, and security features make Dropbox a business must. See https://www.dropbox.com/?landing=dbv2.
10. Lexis Nexis
Your legal research hub, Lexis, now has a mobile app (as does Westlaw). Like the computer interface, the app allows you to view your past searches, folders, alerts, and archives. The search bar also contains the Shepard’s Search, and you can easily narrow your inquiry by filtering jurisdiction, content type, and practice area. No longer will you fear leaving your printed case law at home, since the cases and statutes are accessible on your phone along with your highlights and annotations, which can be made on the go as well. See https://www.lexisnexis.com/en-us/products/lexis-advance/mobile.page.
Develop Your Own App
Take it from me—you, too, can develop your own app. Modern-day access to tech tools has facilitated entrepreneurship, and that enabled me to turn my idea into the app Starsona. After many years of relationships with celebrities, athletes, and “stars,” I decided to create an app through which the general public and fans could easily find favorite stars and request a personalized video shout-out for themselves or their friends. The Starsona app is now live and can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. See https://starsona.com.
Glossary of Social Media Abbreviations
The following are definitions and abbreviations demystified for the uninitiated (or people who don’t spend all their time on social media). Don’t worry if any of these are NSFW [not safe for work] since the following abbreviations will CYA [cover your a**].
“App” is an abbreviation for “application.” An application is simply a kind of software.
Microsoft Office, for example, is a collection of apps—Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. These are downloadable onto your computer or cellphone. You can buy or download for free different kinds of apps in the Apple App Store, which is, itself, an app. Many apps are designed for mobile phones. Facebook, for example, has a cellphone app.
The first four abbreviations below refer to types of social media. The last four are common abbreviations you’ll see when you are using social media. It is becoming more common for email signatures to be linked to one’s accounts on social media, which are often designated by their abbreviations.
DM: Direct Message
PM: Private Message
TBT: Throwback Thursday
Here are some common abbreviations that you may receive if someone is in a hurry or just too lazy to type the whole phrase. They usually don’t insinuate any negative connotations, although “K” instead of “ok,” “KK,” or a similar derivation could suggest frustration or anger.
TL;DR Too Long; Didn’t Read
HBU: How ’Bout You
IDC: I Don’t Care
IDGAF: I Don’t Give A F***
IDK: I Don’t Know
IK: I Know
JC: Just Chilling
JK: Just Kidding
LMK: Let Me Know
NBD: No Big Deal
NM: Nothing Much
NP: No Problem
NVM: Never Mind
OMW: On My Way
PTFO: Passed The F*** Out
TFTI: Thanks For The Invite
TIA: Thanks In Advance
TTYL: Talk To You Later
TY: Thank You
WBU: What ’Bout You
Wow! Oh my! These are frequent utterances!
FML: F*** My Life
FTW: For The Win
GTFO: Get The F*** Out
LMAO: Laughing My Ass Off
LOL: Laugh Out Loud
NFW: No F*** Way
OM(F)G: Oh My (F*****) God
STFU: Shut The F*** Up
TG: Thank God
TMI: Too Much Information
WTG: Way To Go
YOLO: You Only Live Once
Used on their own or to signal more information, if not to describe something stated, these abbreviations are commonly used.
AF: As F***
BTW: By The Way
DL: Down Low
ICYMI: In Case You Missed It
IRL: In Real Life
RN: Right Now
TBH: To Be Honest
These abbreviations decode descriptions of the person in a relationship, descriptions of the relationship itself, and communications that typically occur within relationships.
BAE: Before Anything (Anyone) Else
DTR: Define The Relationship
HBD: Happy Birthday
ILY: I Love You
NSA: No Strings Attached
SO: Significant Other
—R.M.K. & M.Y.T.