Let me wish you a Happy New Year 2021 and thank you for electing me Chair of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s (BASF) Family Law Section.
Many are glad to see 2020 come to a close. The year proved challenging in ways no one anticipated. Courts were propelled to make drastic changes by necessity due to the pandemic. This past year has also spelled changes for many practitioners in the way they operate their practices, many now working remotely without in-person collegial interactions to which they were accustomed and without in-person interaction with clients.
For the San Francisco Unified Family Court, these changes have focused on a balance of public safety and accessibility. The court has asked for patience as they roll out these various changes, many involving costly and difficult to implement technological advances on a large scale not limited to solely the family division. Some of these changes will be here to stay even after the dust from 2020 settles. It is a brave new world and one we hope will not be a sterile dystopia, but instead be positive change in our community affording accessibility to the courts and legal services that may not have been possible in the pre-pandemic era.
I encourage all our San Francisco family law practitioners to please join the Family Law Section, BASF’s family law listserv, and come to our section meetings for periodic updates. I will be using this listserv to circulate important updates throughout the year and meeting notes from our section meetings. Bring your suggestions, your comments, your ideas and help contribute to the betterment of your community.
A recap of some of these changes in the San Francisco Unified Family Court are:
- January 2021 brings one of the most monumental of these changes: e-filing! The rollout of e-filing will start on dissolution matters only. It is anticipated e-filing will expand to other matters in the near future.
- Family Court Services mediation is now remote and being conducted telephonically with plans to move to a video conferencing platform shortly. Orientation has moved online as well.
- September 2020 brought the acceptance of DocuSign-signed documents with a local rule to be added in January 2021. No font signatures are permitted. Check the local rule regarding Marital Settlement Agreements as exceptions apply.
Hearings and conferences in various departments are remote on either the BlueJeans platform or via telephone. This is with the caveat that parties and attorneys still do have the option to appear in person. Strict CDC guidelines are required by the court for all litigants and attorneys choosing to appear in person. The court encourages parties and attorneys to appear telephonically or via video.
Please become involved in your family law community if you are not already. We have a wealth of experience and ideas in this community and it is through collaboration that we make legal services and our public courts operate smoothly, efficiently, and accessible to all.
About the Author:
Stacey Schliffer is Chair of the BASF Family Law Section and a solo family law practitioner and mediator in San Francisco County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.