I’ve been banging the drum for a radical change in the way family lawyers conduct initial client consultations for the best part of a decade. This has now been brought more into focus as one of the challenges law firms are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic is business continuity. This is mainly due to the legal industry, as a whole, being extremely reliant on that all-important initial face-to-face consultation.
So, I thought I would share a few words on the challenges (and opportunities) of business continuity in the face of COVID-19.
Challenge for Clients
We know that staff can work from home and existing clients can be offered access to the team by telephone or Zoom-like services instead of coming into offices. However, the challenge is not just how a firm is servicing existing clients. The challenge is how we ensure that we are not ‘closing the door’ to prospective clients.
Prospective clients can, at the best of times, be anxious. There is the expectation of an initial face-to-face meeting, in most cases, but this traditional point of contact is not going to be available and may lead some prospective clients to defer seeking help until the public health crisis appears to have abated. That sounds sensible if their legal circumstances permit it – but for how long? The 16 to 24 weeks envisaged for the ‘flattening and broadening’ of the COVID-19 peak? This would take us to the end of August 2020. Or more pessimistically, it may be social distancing for the best part of a year.
It is great to see the legal profession positively embracing remote working. One challenge is that the quality of new client/lawyer communication via telephone or visually over Skype or Zoom can be frustrated by poor connections. Managing the flow of an initial consultation may be harder when it is conducted via a glitchy connection. If this is the case then the family lawyers need to deliver the real essence (advice and guidance) of the consultation as quickly as possible. But this real value cannot be delivered until the lawyer has finished asking lots of questions first. This fact-gathering can take up most of the first hour of a consultation. The patience and stress levels of already-anxious new clients will be tested.
Challenge for Firms
Quite apart from the difficulty for prospective clients there is the economic impact on firms and the worry about jobs. There is a danger that even a modest downturn in new client instructions over a significant period of time will create cash flow problems for firms several months into the future. We need to make the experience of the first remote consultation as painless as possible for our prospective clients.
One way of easing the transition from the hand-holding experience of a face-to-face consultation to a remote experience through a screen or ‘phone is to prepare both the prospective client and lawyer beforehand. This is where Engage comes in. For those of you that don’t know, Engage is a free web application from Family Law Lab that allows new clients to complete all the information required ahead of a first consultation so a family lawyer can provide bespoke advice straight away. Engage replicates the fact-gathering experience of a face-to-face consultation including the ‘softer’ questions so clients feel more prepared and less anxious. Engage has a 95% approval rating from its client users.
A process tweak
So, how can Engage maximise the effectiveness of a new client consultation when an initial face-to-face consultation isn’t possible?
- The family team are briefed to deal with each new client enquiry by acknowledging the need for social distancing and offering the ability to conduct the first consultation by telephone, Zoom or Skype after the completion of an Engage submission.
- The Firm will utilise an online AML compliance subscription.
- The usual pre-appointment email is then sent out to prospective clients acknowledging their request for telephone, Zoom or Skype call with a link to Engage. The email attaches a Right to Cancel letter.
- The Engage submission is automatically routed through to the law firm.
- Subject to the return of the signed Right to Cancel letter or a written acknowledgement of acceptance (by email) the remote appointment can go ahead.
- Armed with an Engage submission the family lawyer can forego most of the fact-gathering and immediately focus on the nuanced advice and tailored guidance valued by our clients.
Engage allows new clients to be supported in their introduction to remote ways of working while the work and revenue pipeline for firms is protected.
Engage can handle the majority of the client journeys family teams are likely to face in their everyday practices.
If you would like to chat to us about your firm’s experience and learning during this time, do get in touch. We are keen to build a dialogue with other family law practitioners and are always happy to invite comment, feedback or thoughts on the challenges (and opportunities) you’re facing.
Equally, if you would like to express an interest in Engage, and see first-hand how it can help you service new clients effectively during these challenging times, please do get in touch. We would be delighted to set up a Zoom call to show you.