These are stressful times for all of us. As everyone is scrambling to reorganise themselves and get work done, forward thinking may well take a back seat. As it becomes more and more evident that COVID-19 will continue for some time, having a strategy in terms of client service is essential.
Below are some points you may wish to consider when it comes to maintaining good levels of client care:
Keep clients and potential clients updated via your website. Explain what they can, and cannot, expect during this period in terms of operating arrangements. Things will change from day to day and your website is a great means of updating people, as are social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Explain to clients, for example, what your arrangements will be if their fee earner is sick. Manage expectations in terms of the fact that there may be breaks in service.
Manage expectations of existing clients. Maintain contact on individual files, even with holding emails.
More broadly, you should also consider how best to inform clients so they are aware work is happening outside the office and what safeguards in respect of confidentiality you have put in place. This gives clients the opportunity to raise objections if they have concerns.
Identify service areas most likely to be severely impacted
If you have not already done so, consider doing a “heat map”. Think about the legal services that you offer, and which will/could be most affected during this period. For each firm this will be different. Focus your business continuity planning on the areas most severely impacted.
Consider at what points in the lifecycle of different work types the service to the client is going to be most impacted and what you can do to mitigate that impact. It may be that on-boarding is one of the greatest points of impact. Are there other ways that you can “meet” clients, e.g. via Facetime, Skype or Zoom, to enable them to have the experience of meeting you without being in the same room. If you rely on documentation for AML, could you switch to electronic identification? We need to be aware that criminals will continue to exploit the situation.
Identify areas that may experience increased demand
Think about any services you provide that might experience a surge in interest. Do you have the capacity to manage a surge? You might want to contact commercial clients and explain how you can help them through this time. You might also need to determine your policy on declining new instructions if circumstances mean you do not have the capacity to take on more work.
If you experience significant numbers of absences (even from remote working), consider whether you will be able to deal with complaints effectively. Again, the issue is about managing expectations. If those investigating complaints cannot access files remotely, how could you get files to them? Keep complainants informed and LeO, where matters have been referred to them.
Keep updating your plans as circumstances change
Senior managers should confer very regularly to monitor the impact of the virus and to keep staff informed of the actions the firm is taking.
Manage your risk
In times of stress and where large numbers of staff work remotely, there is a risk that compliance standards may drop. Concern has already been expressed about the mental and emotional impact on staff of new ways of working in response to the virus, e. g. the challenge of working whilst looking after children at home and caring for sick family members. Keep reinforcing the “business as usual” message in terms of compliance with internal policies and offer points of contact for queries and reassurance.
Record your decisions
The SRA have said that you should keep records of the actions that you are taking to ensure compliance and manage your firm’s exposure to risk. It may become vital for you to proof at a future point that you have thought about the issues and taken appropriate action.
Remember, you are not alone. Our team of compliance specialists is here to help you through this. Call or email us if you require assistance, such as:
- advising on your firm’s new risk management measures and preparing a detailed record of the changes you have made to the way you operate and how compliance risks are being managed;
- contingency planning – helping you determine your response to the virus;
- producing communications for your employees and clients;
- support for staff who are working from home and need guidance on internal policies and procedures;
- remote training on data protection and confidentiality, anti-money laundering and the SRA Standards and Regulations in the context of remote working;
- remote file reviews and other compliance checks;
- assisting with practical risk management.