Pandemic Helps Technology Embed Itself In Legal Sector

Pandemic Helps Technology Embed Itself In Legal Sector

The legal sector isn’t well known as an industry that embraces technology. Often relying on laws that are hundreds of years old, the public perception of this archaic sense of working can be understandable.

But who would have known that in 2020 a global pandemic would sweep over the world, with various countries initiating lockdowns of various degrees, face masks being worn almost everywhere, and people singing happy birthday whilst they washed their hands multiple times a day.

However, one of the positives that has seemingly arisen as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, has been the shift in the legal sector itself, as slowly but surely it has begun to embrace technology.

Naturally, we’ve heard a lot about video team and client meetings utilising software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype. As well as conducting video calls with clients using WhatsApp and Facetime.

HM Land Revenue has started to accept electronic signatures on deeds, and during the pandemic the Ministry of Justice announced that for a period of time, witnessing wills by video will be valid (due to lockdown restrictions).

The Law Society has called on the government to help nurture developments in legal technology, to continue the sector’s recovery following the pandemic.

Simon Davis, President of the Law Society in England and Wales, said:

“Solicitors are ready, willing and able to play their role in helping Britain’s economy and society to recover from this pandemic.

“As we enter this new phase of the response to the coronavirus, with government beginning to lift some restrictions, it is clear that technology will play a vital role in driving the post-coronavirus recover across all sectors of the economy, including legal services.”

Here at Today’s Wills and Probate, we spoke to a number of professionals in the arena to ask for their thoughts on technology, how their opinion has changed on it and whether they’ve adopted more technology to help them complete business as usual.

Charlotte Ponder, TEP, Legal Director at Countrywide Tax & Trust Corporation, comments:

“We already used a lot of technology in our day to day lives at Countrywide in any event, but certainly the pandemic has meant that there have been higher levels of adoption across the industry. This has in turn made matters easier for us – for example, we would always rather receive correspondence from other professionals by email as opposed to letter and sign documents electronically where possible instead of printing documentation off, signing it, and scanning it back on. The government restrictions meant that others were forced to work the way we already try to, so in a strange way that has helped the processes we already try to drive in doing things electronically wherever possible.

“We have used all manner of video conferencing platforms in order to try and maintain business as usual – Zoom, Facetime, Whatsapp, and Microsoft teams to name the most popular! We have also seen increased adoption of our software which allows signing of terms of business electronically in order to proceed with estate planning documentation – something we were already doing, and now others have been forced to try and work in this way! We have also used our own secure app in order to obtain identity and payment documentation from clients to be able to proceed with their instructions.

“The only negative effect we have seen from all of the technology is the feeling of the lack of interaction – it’s hard to feel as connected to something via video call, and whilst great for most things done over a long period of time we have all missed the human aspect of our work to an extent.”

Jade Gani, Head of Wills and Probate at Aston Bond, said:

“It’s fair to say that technology and Private Client have not always been synonymous of each other, and this could be because the laws and rules regarding Wills & Probate are sometimes hundreds of years old now. Prior to the pandemic we were already embracing some technology such as specialised case managements systems, detailed databases and online portals, but since the pandemic we have been forced one step further to include virtual instruction meetings and an all-office update each morning, to name a few examples. Whilst we remain vigilant about issues with capacity and undue influence, technology is undoubtably allowing us to contact more clients country-wide, more quickly and I think this can only be a positive. I am keen to hear more about the plans to digitise the witnessing of Wills and the measures that will need to be put in place to ensure no pressure is being placed on the Testator. Undoubtedly, there will be an increased demand in contentious Probate to follow any changes.

“We now rely on email and video conferencing much more than we ever did before to maintain a sense of ‘business as usual’. Wills & Probate matters can be highly emotional and often the ‘human touch’ is required, which is sometimes very difficult to provide over the telephone. So, video conferences have restored that sense of face-to-face contact and our Clients have responded very well to it – even those you might have thought would have struggled with technology have somehow embraced it wonderfully. There is something beautifully British about that.

“We are noticing that burn-out is becoming a real problem, especially after many seemingly endless Zoom meetings! Complete reliance on technology is something relatively new to lawyers and the adjustment can be challenging. Remote working can often blur the lines between work and home-life, so it is especially important that we check in regularly with the whole team.”

Have your thoughts on using technology in the legal sector changed as a result of the pandemic?

Jennifer van Deursen