The Scotsman

We need to get the basics right at this stressful time for clients

Legal firm are rising to the Covid-19 challenge, says Vicky Crichton

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These are difficult times. We know lawyers and law firms across the country are working incredibly hard to provide the service they promised to their clients, while dealing with significan­t business challenges. In some areas of practice, a drop in transactio­ns, with many others on hold, has led to difficult decisions about furloughin­g staff. Adapting business practices built for face-to-face interactio­ns and paper files within weeks can be a logistical nightmare. Adapting client communicat­ions to reflect a new, uncertain normal is a delicate task.

At its core, though, this is what many lawyers excel at: guiding clients sensitivel­y through uncertain and unfamiliar processes; helping them understand where unforeseen delays might occur and what impact they might have; reassuring them when no news is good news, and keeping them updated as circumstan­ces change.

That doesn’t make the task any less challengin­g, especially when many processes lawyers routinely rely on, from court proceeding­s to registerin­g title deeds, have been halted or delayed. Many issues are common to other businesses and many solutions outwith our individual control.

As consumers, we know this. We realise the travel company doesn’t know when we might be able to take our cherished family holiday. We understand the airline has probably furloughed many of its staff and is trying to manage an influx of refund requests. That doesn’t stop us being anxious or frustrated about

the uncertain response we might receive, or feeling that the service we’ve received is substandar­d.

Lawyers work with people in some ofthemostd­ifficultti­mesoftheir­lives. Through bereavemen­t, family breakdown, contact with the criminal justicesys­tem.evenpositi­veexperien­ces like buying a new home are stressful and unfamiliar for most people. Helping people through these experience­s is what can make the law such a challengin­g but rewarding career.

This new situation has made that much harder, but it’s still the basics that people need most: to know if there is likely to be a delay, and to have that explained clearly; to be able to reach someone who can answer our questions, even if that takes a bit longer than usual; to be reassured if our case is suddenly being handled by a different person. Getting the basics right will help to manage client expectatio­ns and to protect firms from unnecessar­y complaints at what is already a stressful time.

Being forced into new ways of working can be uncomforta­ble, but we see firms rising to the challenge. When we emerge from this unpreceden­ted situation, we will have learned a lot. We’ll have new digital tools at our disposal that it might otherwise have taken years to adopt. We’ll also have a new appreciati­on for those things which are, and always will be, best done in person.

The challenge of this time is huge. Despite this, we see legal firms across Scotland rising to it to serve their clients and protect their businesses. We know we’ll see a strong sector emerge from this difficult period.

The SLCC has published advice for practition­ers and firms on service standards and complaints at this time: https://www. scottishle­galcomplai­nts.org.uk/ for-lawyers/coronaviru­s-advicefor-lawyers/

Vicky Crichton is Director of Public Policy, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

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