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Digitisation in legal probate – will it stick?

Sound technology has been a pillar of success for many modern-day businesses across the last few decades, yet the legal sector has been renowned for somewhat lagging behind, until COVID-19 forced firms to adapt.

It’s fair to say that all law firms, to some extent, have upped their tech usage across the past two years but technology wasn’t a stranger to the industry pre-March 2020, so why did many refuse to adopt, and will the post-pandemic world see the succession of old ways of working, or will technology conquer all?

The digital revolution

The embracing of technology by legal professionals is advantageous both for the professionals in question, as well as for the clients they serve. The reduction of tangible letters and face to face meetings beside the increase in email communications, remote signatures and video calls helps practitioners work more efficiently, resolve client issues faster and keep costs to both parties at a minimum. This has further benefits – reducing undue stress on the client/s caused by lengthy cases during already stressful times, freeing up legal professionals to serve more clients or, providing them with the capacity to offer a more personalised service– extremely beneficial for those working in probate.

A further benefit is that, in a sector with many duplicate documents, by bringing these online we allow for greater standardisation, less risk of human error and a higher unlikelihood of documents getting lost of misplaced – all enabling a much smoother process for the parties involved.

 “The area that will benefit most from innovation will be lost and dormant accounts – such as a case where many assets have fallen from the radar due to records not being kept up to date. As data trails will become more easily searchable, it will become less “needle in a haystack” and far more systematic to spot and claim.” Ian Bond, Head of Wills & Estates, Thursfields Solicitors

It is not uncommon for families or individuals involved in a legal case to live in diverse locations where face-to-face meetings are nigh on impossible and legal documents take much longer to sign and send. By bringing these online we allow for convenience and a much smoother client experience.

“The families that our members advise are increasingly international and complex in relation to their financial needs. Digital assets have become far more prevalent and the use of digital platforms and remote witnessing during the pandemic will continue to become more commonplace, and will inevitably bring legislative change that needs to be monitored, as we move towards a more digitally modern landscape. The key consideration for the industry is to ensure that the right balance is maintained between the new technological options and the privacy and protection of the families that it advises.” Emily Deane, Technical Counsel at the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners

Evidently, a world accustomed to technology forces pressure on professionals to respond quicker, while keeping service standards the same. However, while some cases and individuals might require or demand quicker processes and responses, others require more personalised communications and it’s imperative that firms remember this and adapt services accordingly.

Technology itself can also reduce that ‘personal touch’. It’s not uncommon for people to be perceived to show a lack of emotion via video calls which, depending on the situation, can have a negative impact on the client being served. Whether we should tailor the use of technology to specific use cases i.e. to form filling and not video calls, is a question that must be considered.

One final pitfall is based around assumed adoption. Many individuals will not have adopted a thorough use of technology, and some may simply be unable to. Older clients accessing services, for example, may not be as accustomed to the use of online document signing and Microsoft Teams, and may find this reliance on technology stressful and even impossible to get to grips with. A complete adaptation in this case will not suffice.

 “Whilst technology can be a great help to older and vulnerable people in many ways, if all legal services go fully digital, this risks leaving some older and vulnerable people out in the cold, unable to access the services they need. So how do we harness the benefits of modern technology without its potential pitfalls to provide a service that can cater for everyone?” Lakshmi Turner, Chief Executive Solicitors For The Elderly

A tailored approach

There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to probate. While clear that legal technology does drive benefits, it lends itself better to some instances than others. Rather than adapting ‘technology for technology’s sake’, its usage should be considered on both a process and case basis.

The pandemic shift towards delivering more online solutions works for a certain demographic of the UK population. Changing perceptions, away from the ‘stuffiness’ of legal professionals will be key, although for more complex estate management the face-to-face approach is, I believe, still sometimes necessary.” Sue Carter, Strategic Consultant at Consult Sue Carter Ltd

Technology and probate – in conclusion

We must change the attitude and enable the adoption of technology in law firms for those cases that benefit most. Lengthy probate processes caused by repetitive tasks like data entry and reconciliation take a huge amount of time and can cause huge stress on the bereaved individuals at a time when they need it the least. By bringing these tasks online, we can speed up processes and free up practitioners to offer more value-add services to those individuals.

Source:  Blog at – 9th December 2021

Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited remains open during these unprecedented times.  We are conducting meetings with our clients via Zoom, on the telephone or face to face. 

If you would like to discuss an Estate please contact Helena Grady  on (0114 2588899).  Helena is a Solicitor and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) with many years’ experience.

Please note that, although Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited operate from the same premises as Fogwill & Jones Wealth Management Limited they are entirely separate businesses.  The only connection is that both are owned by Colin Fogwill. If you are a client of Fogwill & Jones Wealth Management Limited you are under no obligation to instruct Fogwill & Jones (Legal Services) Limited and you may choose to instruct alternative legal advisers.