Helping clients through a pandemic

Director Lisa Lodge, a senior private client solicitor, has been helping clients to adapt and embrace new technology during the pandemic.

How have you found the transition from being in the office to working from home?

Working from home has been absolutely fine. In some ways it’s been much better because I’ve no commute and I can take on many more appointments as I’m not spending time driving from place to place, and I’ve a lovely view from my home office.

The firm has provided the relevant IT solutions and I’ve had calls redirected to my mobile so there’s no difference in our responses from the client’s perspective. I do miss seeing colleagues in the office and being out and about meeting clients, but this way is actually very efficient from a work perspective.

With two children it has been nice to be at home with them, but obviously there were challenges in terms of helping them with their schoolwork during the working day, but they are at an age where they can do most things by themselves so it’s just been nice to have this extra time with them.

What changes have you made to the way you're working?

Normally we would meet with our clients face-to-face a number of times while preparing a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney, or when dealing with sensitive matters like probate. Obviously that has had to change but a lot of what we do can be done over the phone, and we very quickly began to make use of the video services like WhatsApp Video and Zoom.

In fact, our clients have been fantastic in embracing video technology and it has really helped in a number of ways. When preparing a Will or LPA, for example, it is important for us to determine if the client has the capacity to make such decisions. We have been able to undertake our standard capacity tests using video and still have that ‘face-to-face’ experience despite having to keep our distance.

Following that initial video call, we can prepare a draft and post it out for review, and then schedule another call to discuss it in further detail. When the client is ready to sign the Will and has witnesses in place – either in the home if allowed or outside the window– we can oversee proceedings and provide them with reassurance by watching the signing ourselves over video to ensure that the Wills or Lasting Powers of Attorney are signed correctly .

How are you continuing to meet the needs of your clients?

I’ve gone from around four appointments per day to over 10, and answering additional calls throughout the day and evening, so I can assure you we are still most definitely meeting the needs of our clients. The time spent on travel is now spent on video calls and drafting up documents, which means we can turn things around even faster than usual, which was already pretty swift truth be told as we don’t like to keep clients waiting.

I think it’s also made the meetings more relaxed and comfortable for a lot of clients. Going to see the lawyer has always been quite a formal affair, but chatting to me at home inevitably removes a layer of formality. And because I’m not rushing off, we can just have a bit more of a chat that we might normally, I’ve enjoyed that and I think they have too.

I must say a huge thank you to the families, friends, neighbours, and carers who have helped many of our clients to access video services, downloading apps, setting up accounts, and teaching them how to use them. The clients themselves have been brilliant in getting to grips with the technology and it’s been wonderful for those who have continued to use the video services to keep in touch with family and friends, which has been so so valuable to them during this period of isolation.

Are you still able to work as a team?

Video has also helped enormously with keeping in touch with colleagues, and obviously we can always talk on the phone or email as usual – I’d be emailing someone on the next desk in the office, or at one of our other branches across Lancashire, so really it’s no different to be emailing them at their home.

Our monthly day-long board meetings are now weekly two-hour catch ups via Zoom, which are easier for everyone to attend as there’s no travelling necessary – don’t forget we have offices in Garstang, Lytham and Chorley and meet in central Preston – and we can get straight back to client work afterwards. The frequency is necessary as things are changing so often we need to be flexible and swift in our responses. It’s been really good actually.

What challenges have there been?

Sometimes it is hard to separate work life from home life when you are working from home, as the emails still ping through and the phone doesn’t stop ringing at 5pm as it would when you leave the office. On the one hand it has been good having the opportunity to deal with some things in my own time, but on the other I have had to be very disciplined not to spend all evening working as there’s a lot on.

In the first few weeks of lockdown there was a lull in activity which was a little concerning. But it became clear this was due to people not being able to go out and drop into the office. Then it was quite remarkable how quickly people adapted and accepted using just telephone or video calls, and very soon we were busier than ever.

What things can you do from the office that you cannot from home, if anything?

Not much, in fact the advent of remote working has been broadly beneficial for many of our clients. The use of video calls, for example, has provided young families scan with much easier access to Will planning and sorting our things like appointing guardians for their children.
We can speak at a time to suit them, perhaps they pop the kids in front of the TV and we’ll have a call to discuss their plans in the comfort of their own home. It has always been a hard juggling act for families to come into the office, even when we opened on Saturday to help out, and the feedback I’ve had from these clients is that they actually prefer the new normal.

Being at home I’ve found I can focused more and really spend time with my clients, while also ensuring that our confidentiality is strictly adhered to. We are both more relaxed and can schedule appointments at times to suit each other. Clients can access document more easily and not have to worry about forgetting bringing their paperwork with them.

Having said that, I do miss the engagement with colleagues in the office. It is easy to start to feel a little isolated and out of touch, so it’s important to be aware of that and reach out to others when that happens.

One of the things our branch cannot do from home is provide the Yorkshire Building Society service to the Garstang Community. We have maintained that service, with all of the relevant safety measures, so our YBS customers can still access their cash.

Are you more or less productive? And why?

Most definitely more productive. My client workload has more than doubled because the reduction in travel and internal meetings means I have the time for more appointments.

We have been able to help everyone who has been in touch with us for a private client matter, despite the practical difficulties, and I think the team has done a really excellent job in maintaining our usual high levels of service during a challenging time with no loss of productivity.

How are you dealing with distractions? Are there more or less at home?

Despite the odd query from the children there are definitely fewer distractions at home, although I have to say that distractions are not necessarily a bad thing. My door is always open to colleagues with queries and concerns, and I think it’s always easier to pop a head around the office door to have an informal chat.

I am also a director and head of branch development, so my role is broader than just client work and it is necessary to meet with colleagues and external organisations quite regularly.

Most of that is on hold for the time being, and my current workload is primarily client-specific. It’s great to be able to get through the workload because, understandably, a lot of people are concerned about the impact of Covid on their short and long-term health and we’ve had a significant increase in Wills and LPA enquiries over the last few months.

Do you want to continue working from home?

I really can’t see everything going back to exactly how it was before, so a mix would be good for me.

I can get a lot of work done from home, both in terms of using video for meetings, and getting my head down and drawing up documents without distraction.
But there are still some clients for whom genuine face-to-face meetings are hugely beneficial, and there are still some internal meetings which I would also like to do in person.

The nature of our client base is that many are older and a significant number are alone or relatively isolated. Having a visit from one of my team can be the only human interaction they have that day, and I wouldn’t like to take that away from them. But, where video meetings are necessary or acceptable to the client, I can see this continuing successfully.

It might even make getting a Will or LPA arranged much easier for the younger generations who perhaps don’t feel they have the time to visit a solicitor. If we can get it sorted properly and officially with just a few video calls, it might not seem such an onerous process and could encourage them to get these important documents in place to help protect their families should the worst happen in these uncertain times.