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Law firms becoming hubs of innovation due to coronavirus

4th May 2020

Law firm building

The coronavirus has left no area of public life untouched and the law sector is no different.

Not only is it impossible for life to remain as it was pre-COVID-19, but now, law firms are having to find ways to innovate and invent in order to tackle the present global circumstances. This includes areas such as property, insolvency, and will writing, which just can’t operate like they used to.

Last month, we heard that the Ministry of Justice could be making it easier to write wills by changing the rules around the number of witnesses needed – with the current social distancing laws forcing their hand. But it also seems that laws firms around the UK and the world are looking at ways they can innovate themselves to meet these new challenges.

The Law Society Gazette reports that Bristol firm ELM Legal Services “has created a ‘webcam wills service’ in which clients have a virtual meet-and-greet followed by a 90-minute webcam consultation to devise an estate plan, all of which is recorded. Once the will has been drafted it is converted into a password-protected PDF file and – when lockdown is over – issued as a hard copy.”

Latimer Hinks Solicitors is also looking to innovate by opening up a kerbside will-signing service outside of their offices based in Darlington. “Clients simply pull up in front of the firm’s office and are handed documents through the car window. Two solicitors wearing gloves then witness the execution of the will from the roadside.”

International firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner has developed an app in an attempt to tackle the ever-changing situation. It provides users with the relevant current information they need, including which US states allow electronic or remote notarization.

Stephanie Moll, a partner at Bryan Leighton Paisner, said that signing legal documents with the bare minimum requirements obviously wasn’t ideal but might have to be the new normal for a while until things get back on track. She goes on to say that “everyone should follow up with their estate planning attorney after things go back to ‘normal’ to see if they should re-execute any of their documents.”

Since last year’s endorsement of remote signing by the Law Commission, this practice is becoming regular procedure in England and Wales. The 360 Law Group also has a service for insolvency practitioners, with the Law Society Gazette reporting that this “enables solicitors to hold video calls, validate identity documents, and digitally sign documents such as declarations of solvency in the same session.”

Speaking about the innovations being made at LS Assist, Jo Farmer, the company’s partner and co-head, said: ‘No business is unaffected. With organisations of all shapes and sizes putting cost control at the heart of their operations, we as a firm know that it is critical we take steps to innovate and to adapt our business model and offerings in anticipation of evolving client demands.”

Anyone who works an in-house legal job won’t be surprised to hear that law firms won’t simply lie down in the face of these unprecedented global events. Firms will fight tooth and nail to provide the services their clients need and it’s great to see that these innovations and inventions are taking place.

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