Posted by Pippa Shepherd, head of customer engagement at Legal Futures Associate Arken.legal
On a Friday night 19 weeks ago, I packed up from the office, wished my colleagues a happy weekend and drove home – it didn’t even cross my mind that I would wake up the following day to Covid-19 symptoms and have to begin my 14-day isolation period.
Neither did I expect that my two weeks at home would turn into 17 before I would walk back into Arken.legal HQ to reunite with my ‘virtual’ colleagues in real life.
Getting the team back into our office in Westerham was important to us from a company culture perspective.
While our cloud-based technology meant the delivery, support and development side of the business remained unaffected by the move to remote working, you can’t beat the benefits of in-person collaboration on projects and learning by osmosis that you get from being under one roof.
Plus, we’re like a family and after so long being apart, I think we were all looking forward to being back together again.
As part of Arken.legal’s leadership team, we assessed HQ in line with government guidelines and after many hours of planning and preparation, I’m glad to say as of mid-July, we were able to welcome teams (although staggered) back into the office, safely.
But as we go back to work, as a new normal emerges, we will not – and should not – forget the lessons we learnt during lockdown.
From a personal point of view, they are the simple pleasures of life, like going for a walk or playing a board game. From a work perspective, the wills and probate industry has gone through so much – the unsung key workers who saw a phenomenal rise in demand, alongside the challenge of changing client engagement models overnight.
Being a technology provider for this market, it was interesting to see what changed during the pandemic. There was faster decision-making as everything had to be put in place as quickly as possible, the fear of embracing a cloud-based technology disappeared and was, in fact, embraced.
The idea of an online will was again turned on its head and for straightforward instructions was a godsend. There was much to admire in the inventiveness of some to have documents signed – the 1837 law for witnessing of wills may have stood the test of time but was not prepared for a modern-day pandemic.
Witnessing through windows, car windscreens, by delivery drivers or neighbours over fences – creativity very much came into play.
The adoption of other documents like advance decisions and general powers of attorney to protect the worried or vulnerable while waiting for the registration of lasting powers of attorney also increased demand on the industry.
I really hope that we drive change from what we have learnt during lockdown and the pandemic and create a positive legacy for our industry.
My top 5 wishes for a lockdown legacy
Technology seen as an enabler: In our industry, there were many who were nervous of cloud-based solutions. If your provider invests in industry-leading cloud-based providers and regularly penetration tests their solutions, it is infinitely safer for your business than everything on premises.
Add to this the benefits of being able to work and access information anywhere, easily sharing information and files with other colleagues, simplifying peer reviews, utilising office staff as part of the process, picking up work from furloughed staff without delay, delivering integration between best-in-class solutions that facilitate process improvement and more.
Not every meeting needs to be face-to-face, and your time saving here can be maximised to re-invest in business development, a greater number of client engagements or indeed to keep up with the higher level of family togetherness we experienced during lockdown. The use of technology enables life – in work and out of work.
Speedier decision making: While I understand the need to manage risk within a business or practice, there are many times I have seen the private client solicitor make a quick but informed decision after a great experience on a trial.
They see the benefits and want our solutions immediately but the hierarchical structure in some law firms means the decision is taken from the very top – for as little as a £70 per month investment in enhanced productivity. These decisions have taken months in some cases.
I hope that the legacy of lockdown is to empower staff to make decisions on technology that will assist them in their area of expertise. Technology has proven itself during the pandemic, so put your checks and balances in place but make that decision more quickly – make it your legacy.
Remote signature and remote witnessing of wills in counterparts: We have strongly advocated for updating the law relating to witnessing wills during Covid-19. A big congratulations to all those involved following the Ministry of Justice’s announcement at the weekend to allow people to use video conferencing technology to witness wills.
This is a positive step forward for the estate planning industry, demonstrating that technology is and should be an answer to many of the dilemmas facing a modern wills practice.
However, the announcement specifically discounts the witnessing of wills in counterparts, and we would query how many wills that have been witnessed during the pandemic will actually be valid under these new rules if they have been witnessed as separate physical documents.
My colleague, Sam Warner, goes into more detail about this over on our Insights Hub.
The adoption of online wills: There has been much talk about the risk of online wills – how do you measure that the person isn’t under any undue pressure and that they are making a will of their own free will?
To be honest – is it that clear with other solutions? Telephone wills? Even face-to-face you do not always know that they are not being influenced. In fact, you can argue that the ability to do an online will in private helps those more vulnerable or in a difficult situation to do those while alone.
With a very high percentage of the UK population not having a will, and with millennials now having assets, children, growth in wealth and are more pre-disposed to buy online as a preference, it is key for solicitors to protect themselves against new market entrants and offer a variety of options for clients to engage with them.
A balanced life: I missed working in the office, but no commuting meant I could redirect this time into my working day – I was still able to get in a run and spend some quality time going through homework or teaching my daughter how to play rummy.
The balance of working from home and a focus on productivity will enable many firms to introduce greater flexibility of working and initiatives, like the four-day working week.
Whatever your experience in lockdown, I really hope that you take the lessons you have learnt and are looking forward to a new, bright future where we all embrace and appreciate the little things in life.
Stay safe everyone, while we enjoy our small steps back into our new normality.