As the world learns to live with COVID-19, law firms are taking stock of what lessons they can learn from lockdown. Insights spoke to Margot de Groot, Director of de Groots wills and estate lawyers, a Brisbane-based law firm (with offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne), on her firm’s experience of lockdown and what it might adjust or retain as Australia reopens.
Phasing into work-from-home arrangements
Moving into lockdown occurred fairly quickly for de Groots
“Our lawyers were the first to begin working remotely via our fully digital infrastructure,” said Margot. “The second stage involved shifting our support staff and management team offsite. Despite being able to adjust quite quickly to these changes in our work environment, our main challenge as a firm was shifting the necessary equipment offsite to enable remote work.”
This included computers, desks, chairs, as well as specialist equipment like photocopiers, which were quite bulky and sizeable.
Regular Zoom meetings have kept the firm connected, facilitating check-ins and caseload management.
“We have always used email and phone as a means of communication, and we’ve relied even more on these and Zoom now that we are away from the office and each other. As a team and as a firm, we have adjusted well to the sudden change in the way we operate.”
Initial increase in wills during pandemic
Throughout lockdown, work has remained reasonably consistent - with a spike at the start of the pandemic.
“When the pandemic first hit, we noticed an increase in clients looking to make wills,” observed Margot. “We certainly haven’t seen a decrease in clients looking to create wills or handle other estate law issues during this period. I think this is a good sign for us and the legal industry as a whole.”
Lockdown also prompted a shift to electronic signing software, with the firm advocating for this approach to comply with government health requirements.
Going above and beyond for clients
Operating through this period has meant maintaining a certain level of calm as clients and lawyers experience unprecedented and unpredictable external stressors.
Staying connected via every means of communication available is key.
“Regardless of what is going on around us, our lawyers always go above and beyond to ensure clients feel as comfortable as possible. We are sensitive to the fact that this can be an emotionally draining time in their lives."
“Our area of law is very personal,” observed Margot. “It requires an understanding of many other areas of the law such as superannuation, property law, taxation, trusts, corporations law, and family law because these areas often impact our client’s affairs."
“Succession law has come more to the fore as the complexity of people’s lives has increased. As a constantly evolving area of the law, it’s always interesting and challenging “.
Flexibility and digital workflow here to stay
Now that the firm has adapted to life with COVID, some benefits are emerging.
“As a result of our lockdown experience, we are heading towards a more flexible working environment,” said Margot.
“In order to ensure that the way we do business continues to work well, we are in the process of implementing new digital systems and online offerings to benefit our clients in the long-term.”
Many of these lessons are the result of listening to clients and reflecting on the firm’s collective experiences.
“Communication is key,” said Margot. “It is important to stay in touch with clients. Keeping them informed of what we are doing as a firm and letting them know that they are our priority - as we continue to do business a little differently to how we used to.”