The evolution of best practice within Private Client services

By Legal Futures Associate LEAP Legal Software

Craig Matthews, Director of Lifetime Planning at LEAP Legal Software, explores how Private Client lawyers are re-thinking their approach and actively evaluating the effectiveness of their technology solutions.

Over the past twenty years technology has changed the way in which legal professionals practise law. One area of law that has been rather overlooked by technology until now is private client work. Recent global events and a shift in client expectations, fuelled by an ever-diverse client base with increasingly complex requirements, has driven Private Client lawyers to re-think their approach and actively evaluate the effectiveness of their technology solutions.

With a clientele normally in the latter part of their lives, the provision of Private Client services has traditionally involved face-to-face meetings and written letters and forms sent in the post. Some clients already expect a digital first service and this expectation will grow over the next few years as the 45+ year olds of today become the 55+ year olds of tomorrow. A law firm’s Private Client service offering now needs to be able to cope with everything from the most manual of processes, for those clients who still prefer it the old way, to the most online digital journey imaginable allowed under current legislation.

While the expectation of an older clientele instructing firms for wills, trusts and LPAs today may be met, executors who have instructed law firms to administer an estate or obtain a grant of probate are likely to be more youthful and accordingly will have different and more demanding expectations.

Client expectations are changing quickly. The world we live in today is very different from the one we lived in just a few years ago. Even before the pandemic, when compared to developments in previous generations, it’s clear to see that technology has accelerated change dramatically and has influenced almost every aspect of what we do.

Society’s acceptance of cohabiting relationships, blended families, the LBGTQ+ movement and same-sex relationships allows expression of choice and demonstration of individual freedoms. What this does not provide is security under intestacy law which favours marriage, civil partnership, and then direct family lineage. A common misapprehension is that many people are convinced that having lived with someone for so long or having had children together voids any requirement for a will, whereas very often those key events provide the exact reason for making or updating a will. How this message is communicated to the “modern family” requires a new way of thinking and a joined-up marketing approach spanning a law firm’s business and technology platforms.

While the papers in an asset portfolio of today may look like those compiled ten years previously, it is what is not on paper that really highlights the technology differences of today. Challenger banks offer an entirely paperless experience and digital assets and crypto currencies are a few of many assets that can be owned with no tangible evidence or paper trail. Unless sufficient succession planning is in place including how wallets, keys and passcodes can be left and recovered, it is conceivable that these valuable assets could be overlooked when an estate is distributed, putting solicitors and executors at risk and causing beneficiaries to lose out.

Evolving personal and societal perceptions and behaviours, together with the changing nature of assets and estate valuation, are creating new considerations. The advice that is required to properly inform someone of how best to plan for their lifetime and beyond is changing too.

It is likely that a combination of advice from IFAs, accountants and solicitors will be needed for clients to be properly informed and their estate properly cared for. For law firms, establishing processes and protocols, backed up by best practice technology, understanding where clients should be referred to for further advice, and having a trusted network of advisors so that clients will receive the best advice, could soon become a standard part of a firm’s modus operandi. Lifetime planning advice may well come from different professions but will always require a law firm to enact certain elements.

Law firms whose solicitors provide a “trusted advisor” service, able to optimise both analogue and digital services using effective technology solutions, and who are pivotal in the lifetime planning process, will be the ones who benefit from repeat business beyond just the updating of wills and who will thrive in the digital world of the future.

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