LawLaw CourtsThe Balanced Brief

Monday Morning : Client Care during Covid-19

How are clients coping in this brave new Covid 19 world?

By Hannah Sparkes, Marketing Manager at 7BR and Keeley Lengthorn, Partner at MW Solicitors

Keeley tells us what this first week has been like from a Solicitor’s perspective :

Not less than 2 weeks ago we were seeing clients in our offices. They came in to provide instructions or dropped by to sign their statements. We, Solicitors, like barristers, professional clients and lay clients alike attended Courts across the land for hearings.

Fast forward just days and everyone is (hopefully) at home using the new apps and technology (Zoom, Skype for Business, Lifesize, MS Teams, the list goes on), as well as good old fashioned mobile phones to adapt to the ever changing legal landscape.

The impact on us as professionals has been a pretty drastic rollercoaster of a ride; getting to grips with this new way of working. But the impact on our clients is even more daunting.

Victims of domestic abuse, for example, being told to self-isolate with their perpetrator, someone who may have emotionally, physically or sexually abused them for an eternity and who they were planning to flee from but have now been told by the government they should self isolate with for their safety, that of their children and the nation.

Or imagine having prepared yourself mentally for a final hearing, where the decision about whether your child(ren) will be adopted is to be made. Preparing to lose them forever and then facing the prospect that this could now be delayed for months because the Court cannot determine such an important issue, over many days remotely. This is the reality for many lay clients.

Not only, (like us all) have they got the anxiety of the Covid-19 pandemic but added to this they are in unsuitable properties and circumstances whilst in quarantine and they also have the added stress of their hearings not going ahead or being delayed.

How do we help in this situation?

For me, the reality and worry has hit home. How do I get a client protected who is the victim of domestic abuse?
From the two examples I have encountered in the last week i have to say I have nothing but respect for our Court system. Despite the demands and strain on it now, it has come up trumps and offered remote ways of working to afford these victims the protection they would normally get. Well done HMCTS!

I was equally pleased by the announcement by our Home Secretary who said, this week, that “victims and vulnerable children will not be forgotten about”. In the fight against Covid-19 this is hopefully reassuring for many.

Contact between parents and their children has been the biggest problem I have faced. Having to tell a parent whose child is in care that they cannot have any direct contact for the foreseeable future because the contact centres have closed is heart-breaking and trying to sort out facetime contact in its place has been interesting, to say the least.

Many clients this week have not been able to be involved in the remote Court hearings and this has caused additional strain on us as solicitors as it involves extra de-briefing plus increased client care. I do not want my clients to feel that they are being denied access to justice. I also don’t want the firm having complaints against it in the weeks or months to come.

Client care has been at the forefront of my list of priorities this week.

All of the above is hard enough when you have a client who is able to read and write, has a cognitive ability and whose first language is English. What happens when this is not the case? For me this remains to be seen but given the triumph of the legal profession during this first week, I am in no doubt that as a professional we will face this head on and resolve it to the best of our abilities.

Hannah tells us what this first week has been like from chambers‘ perspective :

Echoing Keeley’s opening words, it has  been an absolute roller coaster of a few weeks for the legal world and personally I have found it really, really tough.

We are seeing rapid changes in solicitors’ offices, barristers Chambers and Court systems alike, literally overnight and we are fire fighting to keep on top of it.

Once 7BR ensured that all clerks and staff were able to work remotely, we then needed our barristers equipped to do the same and more. I spent last week in back to back meetings, setting up test video conferences and making sure everything was in place, ready for the world to go remote. We are quickly adapting and have been successfully conducting RTM’s, JSM’s and hearings by video link. We are using Lifesize as our main conference facility and MS teams internally. However, we are also able to use Skype for Business and Zoom as required too. There is still uncertainly around technology and this is something we are undoubtedly all experiencing together.  

With the difficulties that we are facing within the profession, we are trying to do what we can to help. We have informed our clients that we are “Open for Business” and well placed to continue to provide them with a first-class service as well as being there to assist them in any which way we can throughout this period.

For example, our clerks are offering support with technology tests, going through the process and setting up what we can from our end. We are also putting in place new initiatives that may be of assistance. Our Employment Barristers are offering free 15-minute advice slots to solicitors on any aspect concerning employment law issues that arise from the coronavirus emergency.

We are lining up a series of articles and webinars on the current Covid-19 situation which we hope will be informative, as well as webinars across our practice areas, to try and keep an air of normality and strong lines of communication, providing the expertise we are here to.

As well as communicating from a business perspective we are encouraging our barristers and staff alike to keep in touch with our clients socially. The well-being of our clients is really important to us and we want them to feel reassured that they can turn to us when they need to.

The uncertainty across the bar and the wider legal profession is clear and we need to remember that we are all in this together and undoubtedly, all feeling the same stresses and concerns.

We will get through this.

Communication is vital and so is sharing our experiences with one another. It is a journey.

Going forward, this way of working may become the new “normal” and adapting to this now, even though it is challenging, could change our future, possibly for the better. New IT capabilities, skills, hearings being conducted remotely, it is a changing landscape and whilst we embrace it, we must ensure that we prioritise our clients and grow through this together.

We would welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how you are helping your clients. Let’s get a discussion going on this. We are looking at ideas together on how better we can support our clients during this crisis and would love to hear your views.