The first national lockdown period following the Covid-19 pandemic, certainly caught most of the 10,000 UK law firms off guard, particularly around the ability to ‘demobilise’ their workforce to operate remotely. While some transitioning, such as diverting phones, were relatively easy to make, the fact remains that the sector was not fully equipped to deal with remote working practices and the pressures of lockdown.
As we experience localised and further national lockdowns, what can we learn from the firms who excelled with client engagement during the first national lockdown?
Successful client engagement requires more than opening a Zoom account
Despite movement of people being restricted, solicitors continued to be required e.g. houses continued to sell, families continued to separate and businesses continued to innovate or have changes in commercial circumstances.
Those firms who not only invested in technology but also put people – both employees and clients – at the heart of their decision making, were able to continue to service the market and additionally manage lock-up well enough in the circumstances.
Even before the catastrophe of Coronavirus hit, the need to engage with clients virtually was growing. The Law Society and the SRA have been working to keep firms up-to-date on adaptive measures, where flexibility is possible with online options, e.g. document automation, e-discovery software, data analysis and extraction, smart legal contracts and chatbots are rolling out much faster than planned. These evolutionary tactics have sought to offset some of the impracticalities and inefficiencies of face-to-face meetings, and have given a much needed Plan B to those who had been slow to integrate online services.
However, before we signal the ‘end of the office’ and face-to-face meetings for ever, we need to consider that following the first national lockdown a survey by Adzooma highlighted that 63.6% of respondents said they miss working in an office, with the highest proportion of those respondents citing the social aspects being what they missed most.
The human race is a social one and to a significant extent law firms are built on trust, which relies on relationships – both with colleagues and with clients. While there are undoubtedly benefits from more flexible working, care is needed so that firms don’t dissolve some of the bonds that hold people together. Longer term, as elements of day-to-day work become automated, those seeking the input from professional advisers will do so not because of their ability to process a transaction (the computer will do that) but because of their ability to input, improve and develop a better outcome.
While IT systems, including the likes of Zoom & Teams, have proved to be an effective tool for us all to keep in touch during a crisis, it’s how stakeholders get to grips with using them and implementing associated processes that add true value to their clients. This can be managed by anticipating and making time to offer training to those who will be affected by the changes. The goal is to make any introduction of new tech solutions as seamless as possible, and to ensure clients don’t find the changes depersonalise the experience.
When you consider that up to 93% of communication is non-verbal [cite req.] industries that rely in part on emotional intelligence to support their clients, such as the legal sector, there are undoubtedly challenges ahead. Solicitors are often the last resort for some highly distressing situations, and being accessible and ‘human’ is an incalculably important factor for clients when choosing a law firm. Even without the Coronavirus accelerating the uptake of lawtech, it was a direction law firms up and down the country were always heading in. Willingly or otherwise, the case for cloud technology, integrated apps, and greater website interaction was inevitable.
During the first lockdown, even the baby boomer demographic (currently 56-74 years old) perceived to have low engagement with digital channels, embraced our inCase mobile app, with Jefferies solicitors in Cheshire quoting:
“Older users of the inCase app, previously less enthusiastic about embracing it, quickly found it much more convenient than sending and returning documents by post, or visiting the office to drop off / pickup documents.
Jennifer Dougal, Head of Operations, Jefferies Solicitors
The expectations of clients for legal costs to be kept down, and resolutions to be found quickly is a result of general consumer trends. With other sectors making cheap products that arrive next day, the collective conscience has less patience for expensive and delayed transactions. Consequently, a shift in the legal sector is overdue to keep pace with the expectations of modern consumerism.
Technology gives us options
In a perfect world technology is there to make our lives easier. Ideally, firms could install software, sit back with a reduced workload, while they chat with their more anxious clients. But sadly, it is an imperfect world (something the legal sector knows only too well). The best we can hope for is a streamlined working week. Being able to divert small but important steps in, for example, the process of managing a conveyancing transaction or litigation through using a mobile app like inCase, will not only free up total fee earning time, it will also reduce those interruptions that puncture the time required for solid concentration. Knowing and understanding the digital options available to your firm is vital for profitability and long-term success.
Firms we have been working with throughout lockdown, are testament to how technology can make the lives of lawyers and clients so much easier. A couple of firms have been kind enough to share how it’s helped with their client engagement:
“When we were facing the imminent hurdle of working from home, we knew our firm needed support to adapt to a digital conveyancing process – and fast!
We pride ourselves on having a customer-focused approach and we didn’t want this to suffer due to working remotely. inCase has proved to be the perfect tool for our firm, allowing staff to work safely from home and still complete their cases. Clients have adapted easily to the app’s features such as ID checker, digital forms and digital signature have been paramount in Rowlinsons’ ability to thrive in the current climate.”
Tom Parkinson, Director & Head of Property, Rowlinsons
“The inCase app has grown into an integral part of how Paschal O‘Hare Personal Injury Solicitors offers a premium client experience.
This became particularly evident during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown. Without much time to prepare, our solicitors were working remotely, and our clients no longer felt safe leaving their homes to send in the necessary paperwork.
Our ability to seamlessly send and receive signed documents and communicate through the app left our clients secure in the knowledge that their case remained in good hands.”
Seymour Major, Partner, Paschal O’Hare
For further examples of technology being considered by law firms right now, check out our article titled: ‘Evolution of the law firm: why clients demand that you embrace new technology’
Utilising digital tools in the right way can have a positive impact for both the firm and the clients. These e-solutions do not have all the answers, and are a contentious issue for many firms. But those firms who have been bolting on a few carefully selected smart online options, that support the interaction between solicitor and client, have managed to support exceptional client service in unprecedented times. Sustaining this in a digital age requires commitment to personalising your digital footprint. A few examples of best practice we have seen are:
- Frequently updated website content that helps clients with clear easy to find information.
- Online FAQs within a dedicated Coronavirus update page.
- Clearly articulating operational changes and how they are supporting clients.
- Showcasing the human personalities in the practice and what they’ve been up to during lockdown.
- Supporting charity organisations or creating their own solutions that are helping to either support those affected by or to combat Covid-19.
Be the firm that gets it right throughout lockdown 2.0!
The benchmark for your industry on the other side of this could be set by a big or small practice. It is interesting to watch how the response of some of the larger firms varies so wildly. Some are making no reference to it at all on their websites, others have gone above and beyond to innovate during this pivotal time. Some prime examples of firms that have smashed it are:
Baker McKenzie — Rolled out buddying up that pairs up suitable clients with a trainee lawyer to help them work through Covid-related support offered by the firm. Clients remain in touch with their buddy and can request information regarding any related topic.
Mills & Reeve — Demonstrating their philanthropic ethos, M&R developed an online resource to assist UK health workers to access and understand will writing, in case they become sick or worse from Covid-19. They were then able to review intestacy rules and download templated documents.
Norton Rose Fulbright — Developed a tool and the associated framework to help speed up the dispute resolution procedure for clients having problems meeting contract obligations because of delays arising as a result of Covid-19. For a fixed price the service allows clients to achieve an outcome for a dispute in around six weeks.
It doesn’t have to be about big new; connecting with clients can work on much more common ground. Trying to work from home, participate in conference calls, when you are besieged by children, pets, builders and so on – is highly relatable.
“Two good innovations we found were a montage on the homepage of Scottish firm Digby Brown’s website of lawyers talking to each other by video to show that ‘we are very much open’, and a series of videos from Simmons & Simmons lawyers (and often their dogs) about adapting to working from home.” Global Legal Post May 2020
Automation and efficiencies are crucial to survival for every business, not just law firms. But as we learned from the first lockdown, whoever hits the ground running the quickest with innovative ways to engage with clients remotely, can gain a competitive edge that could make all the difference in a irreversibly fast-paced future. During this time, continuity is needed laterally and vertically. Communication is the answer, and how we communicate has never been more closely watched – and remember, saying nothing is not an option.