There is no doubt, we live in uncertain times. With Coronavirus infecting business sentiment, not just people, law firms across the UK will be reviewing their position and putting in place measures to protect their commercial interests and those of their employees.
The legal sector will play a vital role as the weeks and months progress. Whether it is assisting individuals through private client matters, debt, or divorce, or companies with complex commercial contract disputes, changes to leasehold agreement, or any other matters stemming from Coronavirus, law firms need to navigate through this unexpected but undeniably rough storm. And navigate it they will.
In this article, we will provide some ways in which Solicitor firms and other legal service providers can ensure the continuity and quality of their legal services.
Consider how you can meet the needs of your employees
By now, the chances are you will have already switched to a remote home-working model. It is imperative that your valued employees understand their financial position, including pay, sick pay, annual leave, and your organisation’s policy on self-isolation, social distancing, self-protection, and in light of the latest government guidance that all schools will be closing, childcare. If your staff are fully clear on what to expect, they will be able to focus on their role and the needs of your clients.
Proactively communicate with your existing client base
Your existing client base will want to know how Coronavirus will impact their legal matter. Try and be proactive in achieving this rather than being deluged by worried individuals and businesses. If you operate an immigration firm, you might need to advise clients on the implications of the current travel ban, house buyers or sellers will want to know if they will be affected, and clients will need to understand how the cessation of jury trials longer than three weeks will impact on their case.
Let people and businesses know what you can do to help them
At times like this, law firms will need to reach out to those in need of legal services and perhaps refocus their service offering. Communicate useful advice on how to handle common legal matters which will be affecting individuals and businesses due to Coronavirus. Also, consider creating specific product offerings such as contract reviews for businesses concerned about commercial exposure due to Coronavirus or providing advice on early exiting of leasehold agreements due to business downturn.
Leverage all of the government help available for SME’s and large businesses
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, recently announced a series of financial assistance measures which will be made available to businesses, including:
- £330bn of loan guarantees to businesses
- Interest-free business interruption loans of up to £5m, for which no interest will be due for the first six months
- Cash grants of up to £25,000 for businesses with a rateable value less than £51,000
- Cash grants of up to £10,000 for small business
- Reclaiming of sick pay
Banks, building society, and most financial institutions have also signalled their intention to assist in making finance available and provide flexibility when it comes to payment. And in relation to VAT and company tax, HMRC have stated they are willing to consider:
- instalment arrangement
- suspension of debt collection proceedings
- cancelling penalties and interest where you have administrative difficulties contacting or paying
Take every bit of help on offer if you need it.
Put in place a Coronavirus management team
It is likely you have been convening regular meetings to manage the Coronavirus pandemic. If possible, put in place a formal Coronavirus management team who:
- Meet at regular set intervals (perhaps even daily)
- Have a set mandate and scope
- Manage the Coronavirus risk assessment for all parts of your organisation – a centrally available risk plan should be maintained and updated every day
- Have the financial and people resources to achieve their mandate
- Report and make recommendations to the senior board/management on key risks and plans
- Can ensure that all communication and business changes required in relation to Coronavirus are centrally coordinated and fed from the top of your organisation.
While it may not be palatable, it is advisable to put in financial and operational plans for the long term (i.e. 12 – 18 months), rather than assume all will return to normal by the Summer.
The current coronavirus outbreak is going to test some law firms to breaking point, and ultimately the most prepared, flexible, adaptable, and creative firms will come out the other side, perhaps a little battered and bruised, but otherwise in one piece. With the peak of the outbreak now a matter of weeks away, now is the time to do all you can. It is also imperative that law firms remember not to let standards slip during this time of unprecedented business uncertainty. The SRA’s code of conduct, accounts rules, and data protection regulations must still be adhered to, regardless of the situation.
The UK’s legal sector will undoubtedly rise to the challenge as it always has; after all, this is how it became a template for the rest of the world.
We have been helping solicitors and other legal professionals with professional disciplinary and regulatory advice for over 20 years.