What have the past couple of months taught us? We’ve discovered technology has been a boon to our daily lives, as we rely on an assortment of video-tech platforms to bring a semblance of normality to maintaining dialogue with family and friends, as well as work colleagues and clients.
We have noticed an increase in old and new clients seeking legal advice, in particular on bringing their personal affairs up to date. For example, enquiries about wills rose when the impact of Covid-19 reached its peak.
Covid-19 was the harsh catalyst to make people think about important issues regarding estate planning. Some clients already had a will in place and wished to review this for peace of mind; others didn’t have a will and wanted to prepare one. In some instances, clients also granted a power of attorney to allow a family member to assist them, if required, with banking or other matters if they were unable to do so.
We noticed an increased desire for families to put on paper their instructions to ensure these would be followed to safeguard their family and the distribution of any wealth.
For those clients with existing wills, some now required advice in relation to estate planning around specific circumstances, such as family with a dependent child or to organise their affairs to mitigate inheritance tax.
In dealing with these requests, face-to-face meetings were, of course, out of the question. Like everyone else, our lawyers were working from home and we had to find ways of communicating with clients remotely and getting documents signed and witnessed, while locked down. The usual meetings now took place over Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp and more.
Another way we have done this is by using an artificial intelligence (AI) tool developed in Australia. Settify uses AI to interact with clients, helping us maintain strong working relationships with clients in these difficult times.
Settify provides us with an intuitive, interactive system to interview clients online and can prompt them to consider estate planning decisions, allowing us to compile a detailed brief for lawyers to respond appropriately.
The intuitive system enables us to do basic fact-finding and gather information needed to move the conversation to its next level. It doesn’t write or update a will, but significantly reduces time spent on intelligence-gathering and streamlines the entire service.
We collect background information in relation to an individual (details about family, assets and wishes, etc) before any online meeting, so when we speak. we can provide advice, discuss the options and determine a way forward. Completing the ‘fact find’ at home helps clients’ access documentation more easily, to input into the system and to access during the later conversation, if required.
Questions asked by the system can be answered in the individual’s own time. The process can be paused and revisited at any point, so there is no pressure on clients. They can come back to it any time, at their convenience.
As one of the first law firms in Scotland to use Settify, we have tailored the system to ask questions we’d ask our clients in person – and we’re confident it provides clients with secure and seamless interaction.
It enables our team to gather the information to review before a call, ensuring a beneficial meeting without losing the personalised approach. Thereafter, our lawyers can draft a will relevant to the client’s individual circumstances.
Privacy is, of course, paramount. The system gives clients the opportunity to outline their circumstances via phone, tablet or computer and they are immediately guided through questions relevant to their situation. If an issue is not covered, as we are all individuals with different circumstances, we are only a phone call away.
With face-to-face meetings still not possible, we are taking instructions in many different ways No-one knows with any certainty when we will return to ‘normal’ ways of working. Perhaps this kind of approach, which might have seemed novel until very recently, will actually become the new normal, although it will not suit all clients. However, when technology works as well as Settify, for both lawyer and client, it really can set the standard for the future.
Karen Phillips is a Private Client Partner with Balfour+Manson