In Industry Insights

I recently chatted with Karen Eckstein about the risk issues that law firms need to consider right now as we prepare for a post-lockdown business world.

Karen has spent 30 years advising professionals on risk, primarily as a professional indemnity solicitor. She has also held leadership roles in professional bodies including the Leeds Law Society, CIOT/ATT Professional Standards Committee, and the Council of ATT. Her focus has always been on risk. Karen has written the well regarded book, ‘Managing risk – A guide for tax practitioners‘, and is also a Cert IRM (Institute of Risk Management).

She is putting together a webinar, details of which will be shared through our newsletter in due course.

What do you think the ‘new normal’ of legal practice will look like, Karen?

I think it is widely anticipated that many firms will have more people working from home for much of the time. As I explain in the webinar, one consequence that I don’t think has been widely thought about is that there may be a move to out of town offices, and perhaps more decentralisation/regionalisation of the workforce.

There has been some discussion recently of ‘split shifts’ with some firms having people working 3 day weeks, some staff working Monday to Wednesdays and others Thursday to Saturdays. I don’t know if that will take off in the legal profession, but I do anticipate an increase in flexible working and an increase in reduced hours, with people perhaps working 4 days a week across 5, and only coming in to the office on one or two of those days.

Interesting. What sort of risk issues could arise from three or four day weeks?

One issue might be missing deadlines or urgent emails from clients – if a member of staff works Monday to Wednesday and an email comes in on a Thursday morning (or say 6pm on a Wednesday) it might not get dealt with until the following Monday, which may cause client dissatisfaction, but could cause deadlines to be missed.

If there is a job share, how to you make sure things are picked up? There are lots of risks and issues inherent with ensuring good file maintenance to consider.

How should we identify and deal with issues around our people, property, processes and prospects?

This is important, as there are lots of overlapping and important issues to consider, which I cover in brief in the webinar.

A detailed plan needs to be drawn up of the issues. A good start would be the firm’s existing risk register. You need to consider all the current issues and then how they are impacted by the changes.

I hope the webinar highlights some of the issues that people may not have thought about – for example, how are you going to train staff who are working remotely, who would normally learn so much by sitting in the same room as their senior?

How are you going to identify if someone is not performing or has issues if you don’t see them daily in the office?

And how do you encourage and manage cross department working if you are not all in the same office ?

And one issue that I don’t think has been discussed widely is the issue of managing confidentiality when you have staff working at home who may also live with another person who works for another organisation – I give some tips for things to think about in the webinar, but it is about thinking about the issues and then putting the appropriate processes in place, using your in-house or external specialists to help where required.

Do you have any practical tips for getting back to work with minimal disruption to business?

Plan for it!

Think about the issues and think about the impact on your staff and your clients, don’t try to rush it, think about your property issues, your people issues, your supply chain issues (both where you receive goods and services from and those you supply those to) and your clients. Think about your processes and systems for each aspect of your business. There needs to be a logical plan for each aspect.

What’s at the top of your return to work plan?

I think the property and health and safety issues have to come first – but from a professional risk perspective, a review of the processes, to see what needs changing and an audit of the files to see whether there have been any issues during the crises to correct.

What opportunities do you see for legal businesses in the new normal?

I think many people will not plan and will just try to return as best they can. But there are opportunities, to downsize your capital overhead, perhaps reduce staffing costs if staff want to work reduced and flexible hours (they may not be worse off if they don’t have to commute so much and have other costs ancillary to that) – if you also think about the impact on your clients so that you aren’t trying to put pressure on them at a time when they are struggling but are offering support- but at the same time understanding your financial position- debtors isn’t cash in the bank!

Where can law firms get further advice and support?

Insurance brokers can assist with any insurance related issues (I am aware that a number of insurers are asking testing questions about the firm’s BCP’s and ability to withstand a future crisis). Specialist firms offering compliance services such as yourselves are invaluable in the first instance in ensuring that compliance with such issues are resolved – and then we or other risk specialists can work with you to ensure that a ‘return to new normal’ plan is in place, working with employment and property lawyers (if needed) on any issues that arise as a result.

Find out more about Karen Eckstein here.

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