Photography by Hillary Ehlen
What started out as an offhand suggestion from a business partner and friend has turned into a potential game-changer for those in the midst of a divorce. Krista Andrews, an attorney at Anderson, Bottrell, Sanden & Thompson Law Firm in Fargo, is the cofounder of PartUs, an app that steamlines the divorce process.
When Microsoft engineer Tim Brookins suggested a year ago that Fargo attorney Krista Andrews should develop a divorce app, she wasn’t entirely sure about the idea. After getting a second opinion, though, and mentioning the idea to another friend and former client — who ended up investing $100,000 into the project — she jumped in. With the initial funding, Andrews got set up with a local mobile-development company, which came up with a website wireframe and an amount that it would cost to create a minimum viable product, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, turned out to be much more than the initial investment money.
So Andrews went back to Brookins, who has more than 20 years of software development experience, to look at the numbers. Brookins realized that what she was doing was a potential game-changer and told Andrews that if she gave him part ownership, he’d code the software himself. A few months later, PartUs was launched.
Andrews says that fellow attorneys and clients have started using it, and that ever since she went to a national conference to discuss the app, it’s taken off. Still in its relative infancy, PartUs is already being used in nearly 15 states and — between attorneys, clients and paralegals — by more than 1,000 users.
Right now, PartUs is strictly a desktop application. The mobile app isn’t currently available for a consumer to download out of an app store but can be used when an attorney invites a client through a link. The coding for the public app is being worked on right now by Brookins.
“It could easily have an international impact if it continued to grow and we were able to keep up.”
The app is used to speed up the divorce process and eliminate the number of documents exchanging hands. In most cases, a client going through a divorce is asked to gather and provide their financials, tax information, properties and bank statements. Their attorney then has to do manual data input of assets and debts that can range anywhere from 50 to several hundred entries. With PartUs, clients can input and allocate that information and attach documents to support those numbers. It speeds up the process by months and also saves the clients money by entering the data themselves instead of their attorney doing it.
“I would love for us to have a tool that clients, attorneys, judges and mediators could use because it’s a unified platform that everyone can work off of,” Andrews says. “Right now, a client gives me their information, and then my assistant or I input that info, and we bill them to do that. The opposing party is doing the same: Their attorney is billing them, and then you have two sets of data that don’t always merge. It’s just inefficient.”
Andrews says she wants to make the divorce process easier for everyone involved.
“You can’t take the emotion and angst out of it necessarily, but just make the system more efficient, give parties more control and give attorneys the ability to allow clients to participate more instead of hoarding that work,” she says.
So far, the feedback from users has been very positive. Andrews has gotten several comments about how “mind-blowing” the app is and gotten questions like “Why didn’t anyone think of it before?” A few weeks ago, she presented PartUs to a group of North Dakota judges, and afterward, one came up to her and said, “I wish I had the funds to give you $500,000 for seed money.”
The potential for significant growth is there, though creating software in the legal profession can be difficult because laws are different, and everything is so case-specific. One can’t take out the role of the attorney advising based on what the law says and what the facts of the case are, but PartUs isn’t giving legal advice and isn’t unique to any state. Because of this, it could also work internationally, with currency being the only thing that would need to be adjusted.
“It could easily have an international impact if it continued to grow and we were able to keep up,” Andrews says.