By Legal Futures’ Associates inCase
Alongside the rising fear of the pandemic, the year 2020 has seen a meteoric rise of the video conference meeting – not only as a business obligation but also as a social necessity. Much has been written about the downsides, but hold up – are there any opportunities or hidden advantages for law firms and most importantly, clients?
The legal sector can benefit significantly from video conferencing because lawyers rely on face-to-face consultations and meetings to progress cases, correspond with clients and grow their practices, which Covid-19 has made far from easy. Video conferencing, even ‘post-pandemic’ enables legal professionals to do all of these things conveniently, thereby boosting productivity and efficiency.
According to the Online Nation Report revealed by OFCOM in June 2020, more than 7 in 10 adults now make video calls weekly, that’s a sharp rise from 52% to 70% during lockdown, indicating that it’s not only people in business that feel comfortable in front of the camera – the vast majority of the population do too. This communication method is now a staple in the nation’s consciousness.
In this article we explore the nuances and benefits of virtual conferencing that can significantly benefit lawyer-client relationships going into 2021.
The trend is particularly noticeable in older internet users, aged 65 and over. OFCOM reported that in February 2020, 22% of this age group were making at least one video-call each week, however, by May 2020 this had risen to 61%.
When the lockdown began and working from home was thrust upon solicitors and other office workers, virtual meetings were forced upon many of us – whether we liked it or not. Not only did everyone need to get to grips with new technology quickly, but they dealt with a whole host of other emotions – colleagues’ judgement of their homes and just-out-of-bed appearance and attempting to stay calm whilst handling domestic disruptions.
Many of those – formerly panic stricken – people subsequently helped family members to join the video conference tech wave. Hence, on the whole, the virtual meeting has been introduced to those multi-generational family members in a more palatable way, as the technology provided a novel and practical way to keep in touch with loved ones.
The new normal paradigm
As virtual meetings have been eased-into everyday life, and working from home for many people continues, making video calls will certainly become an essential part of ‘the new normal’ offering to clients.
Even if the vaccine is hailed a great success with face-to-face meetings back on the table, there are still many good reasons to invest and continue video conferencing, which will leave a legacy well after the Covid-19 era.
Leaving aside technical issues, there are many circumstances for solicitors where using a virtual meeting can be useful and achieve better results than an email, phone call or letter. So can solicitors leverage the benefits of this technology, which is now in so many people’s homes?
Being a solicitor means understanding psychology and being a strategist too. Having a veritable arsenal of communication methods can be a blessing – if you choose the right option for the task at hand. When stakes are high and emotions are raw, seeing and interacting with a real person with a sympathetic and caring demeanour, may truly help to ease your client’s fears or help find a resolution faster.
Here are a selection of practice areas where it can make a real practical difference:
An opportunity to read complex emotions / body language in Family and Private Clients
Body language and facial expressions will invariably reveal a host of other messages that solicitors can read subconsciously, an insight they may not have been privy too if the alternative was a phone call.
- For those sensitive and emotional life events, where divorce, estate administration and private client law is concerned, some clients may truly appreciate seeing as well as hearing from a solicitor. Solicitors will be able to convey sympathy or empathy with a situation on a much deeper level.
- Could a solicitor who is trying to find hidden assets in estate administration get more information from a video call with executors and beneficiaries?
- Instead of having numerous phone calls with family members involved in a contentious probate dispute, would a video conference with all interested parties bring matters to a swifter conclusion?
- Having a video conference can save a lot of time if lengthy email chains are bypassed, saving the emotional angst of trawling through numerous emails. Sometimes a faster resolution is in the best interests of all parties involved.
More agile than face-to-face in Corporate & Commercial transactions
Quick and effective communication can make all the difference to a client’s perception of the way a matter is handled.
- The ability to arrange meetings in less than a minute and link in with multiple people in different locations, could be invaluable for a Corporate team working on a business purchase or disposal.
- They will be able to strategise with their own clients working in a team quickly if the need arises.
- It’s simply much more cost-effective to bring two sides together remotely without the expense of travel, arranging a venue plus lunch, tea and biscuits, for those all-important negotiations to ensure the deal is closed.
- It is no stretch to envisage a solicitor arranging a video conference with the respective owners of a family business, along with their accountant to talk through the options for selling.
Litigation teams to nip those misconceptions in the bud early
For litigation clients, such as in personal injury, video conferencing lends itself particularly well to the complex nature and veritable confusion that accompanies cases.
- Where a solicitor has an opening video conference with a client’s team involving multiple people, they have found that explaining crucial information can put any misconceptions or misunderstandings to bed early on, as opposed to the pre-COVID-19 norm of a one-to-one phone call with a lead client, who would in good faith relay information to the rest of the team. When information is relayed, there is more opportunity for misunderstandings.
- If trust is gained with a number of people in a group rather than one person, the truth of the matter in hand may be outed sooner – and clients could be more likely to reveal information and follow given instructions.
- In addition, witness testimonies lend well to being expedited over video conference as opposed to on the telephone, again benefitting from more non-verbal clues which could be given by the witnesses over the screen.
Managing expectations in Residential Property matters
For residential property cases, where much of the work is transactional, one could presume that there’s not much need for a virtual meeting. However, how many of your conveyancing clients complain about a breakdown in communication or that their solicitor didn’t seem to care? For many clients, buying or selling can be a very emotional affair.
- Imagine the scenario where a conveyancer arranges a virtual meeting with a husband and wife making a house purchase and talks them through the process using relevant materials and diagrams.
- The video call would greatly assist in managing expectations of two people simultaneously, helping to develop the formative stages of their relationship with both clients – and taking comparatively the same time as speaking to one person on the phone.
- Video calls can be more efficient if there is a time and cost saving, rather than going back and forth on email. For example with the inCase mobile app, from Lavatech, firms have said it reduced the burden of calls and emails by over 80%.
- The result could be more clients taking great comfort in physically seeing their solicitor and both feeling engaged and part of the arrangements.
In relation to video conferencing for a residential property team, Dave Briggs, Marketing Manager from Nash and Co Solicitors based in Plymouth, commented that having this facility within the inCase mobile app, will:
“definitely help break down some barriers that people have when coming to a law firm.”
Expanding the mediums available to offer video conferencing for greater client care is certainly a win-win for solicitors and clients alike.
Crucially, the potential for greater client satisfaction is there, not just because clients get to know their solicitor but also because the solicitor will get to know their clients on a more personal level. The video conference will aid the development of those all- important human connections that are greatly improved by seeing a familiar face and finding common ground.
Firmwide cross-selling opportunities
Law firms along with many others, have conventionally been aware of the 80/20 rule, where 80% of their work comes from 20% of their clients and to that end, have strived to cross-sell to other areas of law whenever the chance arises. However, there are issues with effective methods of doing this in the right way and relying on colleagues to get back to clients in a timely manner.
Virtual meetings provide an innovative way to bring in a colleague from another team, to give a short insightful view on an issue, which will undoubtedly increase the chance of not losing the lead, helping with cross-selling targets. Those firms that see new opportunities and adapt quickly may find that there are advantages to be had by putting in extra effort with valued clients.
Good practice for solicitors for successful virtual meetings
For legal firms that make video conferencing part of their service offering and encourage meetings to be conducted in this way, it’s essential to consider:
Choose video conferencing wisely
- All law firms should make their employees aware of the fact that too many video calls, or ‘zoom fatigue’, can zap a person’s energy. There are numerous credible theories for this and antidotes which can help.
- Now it is understood that video conferencing undoubtedly has it’s benefits and limitations, a deeper understanding of when to use and when not to use it needs to be on the agenda for discussion.
- Be mindful that clients will enter the video conference meeting with an array of emotions, so solicitors can pick-up on non-verbal cues to adapt their approach accordingly.
- Think about how your clients may benefit from video calls. The ability to share visual information on a video conference is a useful new tool that could come into its own in some areas. NLP studies have found that about 65% of people respond best to visual communication rather than auditory (litening) and keasteic (touch). Could screen sharing a diagram of the divorce procedures or probate process help to explain the process to clients?
- Think about where your clients could benefit from virtually meeting someone in legal support services. Could the accounts team talk clients through something as fundamental as the payment section on your website, if they are having issues?
- Most video conferencing can be timed to end at a certain time, therefore it may be easier to limit a client having a ‘30 minute consultation’ than it would compared to a personal meeting.
It should go without saying that firms of all sizes must have robust IT policies and procedures in place to protect staff and clients, particularly their personal and sensitive data discussed on video calls. We would recommend seeking professional guidance if you do not have in-house resource.
As a minimum, consideration needs to be made regarding which video conferencing you choose; how the devices that use that platform are secured (including passwords); and if you make recordings of any video calls, where those recordings are stored and how you use those recordings needs to fall part of your data protection policies and procedures.
Advise clients in a suitable manner
It would be easy to confuse clients with a list of disclaimers for video conferencing, but making instructions easy to follow rather than intimidating will help to take some fear out of the equation.
- Take the formality out of the word ‘video conference’ for more informal meetings with clients. Alternatives are ‘virtual meeting’, ‘video call’ or ‘video chat’.
- Verbally providing reassurances about the security of the link will also help soothe any clients concerns.
- A home Wi-Fi network is usually best – there are more risks associated with a public or unsecured network. (If a client knows they will be out and about or using another network, it would be a good idea to plan in a virtual private network (VPN).
- Reassure them of their privacy, your GDPR compliance and data sharing notices, including if you allow them to record or not.
- Ask them to turn off their home smart speaker devices if the meeting is private.
Train solicitors on the technicalities and the nuances
- Offer a virtual meeting for all new clients. Why should your law firm be likened to a faceless call centre?
- Query where your client will be when meeting virtually, taking extra care to ensure privacy for the client.
- Obtain consent from all participants if you want to record the meeting.
- Allow time at the beginning to iron out technical issues and ask each of the guests to introduce themselves.
- Make sure you check on the client’s well-being early on and listen to find out if you can reassure them or practically assist them in any way.
- Reassure clients of the security measures you have in place, such as only allowing in selected invitees.
- Make sure solicitors know what to do if there are any security breaches and how these need to be addressed.
- Only allow in selected invitees and insist that cameras are turned on so you know you are talking to the right person.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of personal appearance and good decorum.
- Use the video call to focus on taking some of your clients’ pain points away, summarising what has been resolved or will be completed towards the end of the call.
Video conferencing is established as environmentally friendly, significantly reducing expenses and travel time, whilst increasing billable time per solicitor per day. It’s invariably a win for law firm’s targets and turnover.
Whilst letters, phone calls and emails have dominated solicitor’s communication for decades, the arrival of the video conference also looks set to stay. Despite some of the limitations of video conferencing, if used in the right context, they can be a compelling tool to increase solicitor efficiency and improve overall client trust and satisfaction, which will in turn affect not only client reviews if your service improves, but the bottom line too.