Don’t Let Lack Of Time Lead You Into Trouble
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This month’s technical corner article comes from Amy Bell, CEO at Teal Compliance
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For conveyancers and private client lawyers, it is a very busy time of the year. With the huge increase in conveyancing volumes caused by the stamp duty holiday and home movers’ uncertain financial position, this means that everyone wants to move yesterday. With the second, and possibly further lockdowns, and the rapid spread of the coronavirus which necessitates them, people are thinking about end of life planning, and sadly some have died, needing probate services.
News reaches me of the incredible pressure being felt within some law firms. Firms who have had considerable disruption to their income this year, and face an uncertain future, especially if they’re involved in conveyancing. That combined with huge increases in PII premium (I’ve heard between 30 and 70%) this year will mean a lot of people will be focused on getting the work in and getting it delivered as soon as possible.
That combined with pressure from clients is making the situation worse. This is nothing new but does appear to be worsening.
There have been reports of clients shouting at staff, blaming the firm for delays outside of their control, and in some cases, it appears to me that the poor person who answers the phone just cops for the lot, maybe they are the only person they’ve managed to speak to all day.
It’s turning into a perfect storm for risk and compliance issues within the firm. If you’ve got colleagues feeling under this pressure, do pay attention to it early and try and mitigate or stop it or the littlest thing could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back – as one firm told me when thinking about bringing in some new training.
When people are under extreme pressure things can go wrong, not through anyone’s deliberate action, but as a result of distraction or weak processes.
Look out for these issues in particular.
- Missed deadlines
These can easily turn into claims. Make sure your processes are being followed and key dates are captured in accordance with policies. If people are swamped, it might be a good idea to temporarily have someone assisting with monitoring them, so you can make sure they get to the top of the pile in time.
- Errors in drafting or calculations
Most firms have claims arising out of drafting errors, whether that’s in the detail of contracts, wills or completion statements. When looking at the causes, they are varied, but certainly distraction plays a part in most of the simple errors. Ensuring people have time to focus on important details or implementing a “four” eyes process (where someone else checks the document/figures) might be useful.
- Not acting in accordance with the client’s instructions
Taking the time to capture the client’s instructions, both at the beginning and if they should change throughout the matter is critical to demonstrating you delivered the service in accordance with the client’s wishes. Having a process where instructions are captured is an important part of file management. In some lower fee areas, such as will drafting and conveyancing, there can be a tendency away from detailed notes, but some things should still be captured.
- Not delivering service in accordance with the client’s expectations and the SRA Standards and Regulations.
The Code of Conduct for Solicitors requires that you ensure that the service you provide to clients is competent and delivered in a timely manner.
This requirement is two-fold. That it is competent, (without mistakes) and in a timely manner (without delay). If you are not able to do this then you should not accept the instructions. If you are drafting in help from other departments, ensure that they are fully briefed on the task. Be realistic in your time estimates with clients. I know some conveyancers are already warning clients that they may not complete before the end of the stamp duty holiday.
I am sure you can detect a common thread through the points I have raised – time. I know none of us has a time machine, or a way to find more time, but you can manage how people spend the time they have. Pay attention to the capacity which each person has and ensure they don’t become overloaded. I know that turning work away at the moment seems counterintuitive, but failing to do so, if the firm can’t handle it will likely cost more in the long run, in dealing with unhappy clients and possibly PII premiums as a result of claims.
Amy Bell is CEO at Teal Compliance