By Julian Bryan, Managing Director, Quill
The SRA expects its regulated law firms to ‘continue to meet the high standards the public expect’ and have ‘appropriate contingency plans in place for disruption’ during the coronavirus pandemic.
With that in mind, it should be no surprise that as the largest combined legal cashiering and payroll bureau in the UK, we at Quill have always been hot on our business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) planning.
And for good reason: if you were the back office for 7,000 lawyers and paralegals, with annual billing in the order of £1 billion or responsible for generating 8,000 payslips on behalf of various employers with accompanying transfer of over £54 million to employees’ bank accounts, wouldn’t you be hot on it too?
As we’re now living and working through difficult times, this forethought is serving our clients well. I’m sure none of us could have made a New Year’s Eve forecast that we’d have an international pandemic on the scale of coronavirus within 100 days, and yet here we are navigating the biggest health crisis the world has ever experienced.
Our contingency planning has most definitely benefited our clients as we’ve helped them maintain the compliance standards which the SRA and other regulators demand on behalf of consumers. That, coupled with our legal accounts, practice and document management applications all hosted in the cloud, has meant Quill and our clients have had a relatively simple switch to a work-from-home model. There’s been no service disruption whatsoever.
Of course, our industry regulator admits these are ‘mitigating circumstances’ and acknowledges that some processes – financial management duties, in the main – may not be completed on time. As such, a level of leniency is afforded around submission deadlines.
However, the SRA maintains its absolute focus on protection of client monies. Ultimately, cashiering tasks themselves still need to be done. This means you need to have a contingency plan just in case we hit a second spike, or if your cashier is unable to work for health or shielding reasons.
We’ve put together some practical notes on the actions we took – and might well still need to take – to keep our software servicing 7,000 legal professionals and our outsourcing staff servicing legal cashiering and payroll compliance. Hopefully you can draw inspiration for your own BCDR reviews:
SMS system – We use an SMS alert system to send messages by text to any group of managers, teams, offices or role-based employees. SMS is still the easiest and quickest cross-platform messaging tool and, with the right SMS system, you can alert staff by job title or location to attend an office or stay at home.
Even before the pandemic was a pandemic, we took the opportunity to double check our staff’s personal details were present and correct – that’s mobile numbers, next of kin, etc – and, of course, our database was fully up-to-date and GDPR compliant.
With a return to physical premises unlikely until sometime later in the summer, if you haven’t already done so, now’s the ideal time to check or collate your own list of employees with latest contact details and set up a similar text alert system to ours. We use intellisoftware.co.uk.
Hardware & software – In the run up to lockdown and with the media getting increasingly excited – with hindsight, rightly so – we decided to our examine working-from-home arrangements team by team. This helped us to iron out a few problems with regards to equipment at home.
It was only after we closed our offices that we realised one of our failings. We’d earmarked a pool of laptops that were put to good use during the trials but we hadn’t accounted for the fact we’d need every item in one pool simultaneously during the real-life event. A basic error!
Anyway, the problem was easily solved and we’re repurposing our hardware replacement strategy to a laptop-only model going forwards as we may end up with more home working, fewer desks in the office and more hot desking; something which is looking to become a plausible possibility for many organisations.
Is your own infrastructure fit for purpose? Not only hardware but also software? For the latter – software – cloud systems have become a necessity these past weeks. That’s exactly what we offer – a web-based complete practice management system. Even better, to help accommodate audits and reviews, it’s provided with a free accountant’s licence. Clients using Interactive can empower both their staff and accountant to work anytime, anyplace, any device with a straightforward online login thereby eliminating any impact from unforeseeable disaster.
Our own cashiering team utilise Interactive to manage clients’ accounts as well. Whether you need cloud access to your matters, documents, legal forms, bundling tools or accounts, Interactive’s got you covered.
Phone system – Phones are the bane of every company but essential for communicating with existing and would-be consumers. Fortunately, we’d moved our phone system to the cloud several years ago. Clever functionality facilitated the diversion of our office phones to corresponding mobiles or landlines at home.
Now we’re enhancing our phone system by installing a soft phone on every laptop or PC. Together with a headset, every member of staff has our entire phone system functionality and address book to hand. We can receive and transfer your calls from home to home more readily.
But we mustn’t forget the loyalty and dedication of our staff typified by our receptionist – Lynda. She’s the glue binding everyone together across our offices. Being rather shy of techie things like soft phones, on lockdown she packed up her trusty phone kit and, with some careful labelling, re-assembled it on her dining room table!
Take our phone system advice and check out gamma.co.uk. It’s an infrastructure investment that’s proven to be worth every single penny at Quill.
Outsourcing services – Knowing that we’re the financial compliance backbone for so many practices and the payroll service provider for many businesses too, getting our staff socially isolated urgently whilst remaining in direct contact with clients, colleagues and team leaders was paramount. And with the SRA stressing the need for firms to put contingency measures in place, it might be somewhat easy to predict that we’ve had considerable interest in our outsourced cashiering services during the coronavirus outbreak. The same applies to our outsourced payroll and typing services.
The sudden move to home working has been quite a shock for certain individuals and companies. While Zoom has been a popular choice for many organisations, we’ve opted for Google Meet which allows for meetings to be open-ended, mimicking an open-door policy.
To try and keep morale high amongst Quill employees, we moved our regular staff ‘News, Views and Eats’ updates to Google Meet format and even held a two-hour all-staff AGM online at the end of April. Emotions ran high in the early days as we acclimatised to the new ways of working. As ‘accountable to you’ is our brand strapline and embedded into our ethos, we made a commitment to top up salaries for any furloughed staff, sent everyone some Easter chocolate and have branded facemasks in the pipeline!
The bottom line is this: we’ve always had fully operational legal cashiering, payroll and typing bureaus on hand throughout lockdown. If you’re working on a skeleton staffing level, or looking for a contingency plan short- or long-term, we can bridge the gap for as long as required or be retained on standby in case a future need arises.
Insurance – Early on, we reviewed our insurance cover regarding empty offices and home working. Our brokers, romeroinsurance.co.uk, have been truly fantastic and advised us to regularly inspect our offices to make sure our policy stays valid. Insurance cover has also been extended to address company-owned computer equipment being used by employees at home.
Is your insurance policy suitable for your new set up? Perhaps a check in with your own broker is due?
There are other practicalities to bear in mind at this time too. As per all of the above, enabling remote working is a key priority at the moment. When Boris told us on that fateful Monday evening that we should work at home with immediate effect, we were ready. Decamping to home offices was an orderly event. We activated our well-rehearsed BCDR plans beginning with an SMS alert to staff initiating migration to home working within a 24-hour period. Which is exactly what we did.
The next stage is to begin planning for our collective returns to all of our offices. The Law Society has issued a framework, based on governmental guidance, which is about conducting a risk assessment and protecting your staff within the on-site environment. Read the lawsociety.org.uk/topics/coronavirus/practical-framework-for-law-firms-and-sole-practitioners-on-return-to-the-office web page.