The Law Society has published what it calls a ‘blueprint’ for firms and solicitors facing local lockdowns. The substance of it also applies to national lockdowns (it was, in fact, released ahead of lockdown 2.0 in November) but the guidance relating specifically to local tiers will prove useful as we eventually move from the national lockdown restrictions to a local tier system of restrictions once again.
Readers need to remember that Wales will be subject to separate restrictions to England.
Business continuity and risk
Firms must activate their business continuity plans if they haven’t already done so. This means identifying the business’s critical staff and ensuring business continuity can be effectively implemented remotely.
Unsurprisingly, IT-related issues are business critical. All relevant IT-related policies and handbooks should be up-to-date and available to staff. They need to be fully aware of their responsibilities in their use of IT, the internet and social media. Particularly, with the vast majority of workers working remotely once again, the need to be alert to the cyber risks remains critical.
Firms and their staff may be tempted to be more comfortable working remotely, but since March last year when the first national lockdown began – cyber criminals have been working hard to find new ways to attack the unsuspecting. Scams and fraud are most definitely increasing.
Firms must remain on high alert and regular risk assessments must be undertaken.
The Law Society guidance emphasises the need to review your processes and operations to ensure staff can operate critical systems and timely payment of staff and suppliers is made.
‘Cashflow is king’, so firms need to consider the impact – both immediate and in the longer term – of national lockdown restrictions on their cashflow. The Society recommends preparations such as drafting cashflow forecasts, projecting potential loss of income by practice area and identifying whether savings on expenditure (or deferring payments) is possible.
Effective client communications should not be jeopardised by the inconveniences and difficulties firms might experience because of lockdown. If you prioritise ensuring clients can easily contact their lawyer and receive a prompt response, you will be protecting the client relationship and, by extension, your future business.
Make sure clients know how they can best communicate with the firm/their lawyer during the lockdown or while tight local restrictions are in place, particularly if in person meetings are not possible.
Is it possible to talk too much about issues of mental health and wellbeing? The writer thinks not, during a pandemic when both the working environment and personal life is adversely affected.
If lawyers and other staff are suffering the mental and emotional impact of the prevailing situation and lack the support they need while in their remote workplace, they will not be able to perform their tasks and responsibilities properly. The consequences could be mental isolation, mistakes, underperformance, negligence claims, regulatory breaches, dissatisfied clients and reputational damage.
The Society signposts readers to its guidance on wellbeing issues and emphasises that it is crucial to promote and support mental health and wellbeing of lawyers and staff.
As a profession, we do not yet know whether the legal workplace will revert to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’. What we do know is that not everyone will return to the office, with some firms already closing offices so that some lawyers and staff can work permanently from home.
However, the Society does suggest firms consider the practicalities of going back to the office, and has published a framework for return to the office which should prove useful.