The past few weeks have transformed our lives like no one could have foreseen: schools closed, travel and movement severely curtailed, and all sporting events cancelled or postponed. Normal daily life is on hold and we have no way of knowing how long that “hold” will last.
Taking a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected various aspects of life across the country reveals the unique nature of this crisis. Law firms offering family law services are not immune either, especially at a time when families are essentially in lockdown in often less than perfect circumstances.
So how do law firms deal with the complexity of ongoing family disputes – such as separation, child support matters and a myriad of other concerns when face to face meetings are unavailable or just not possible?
Within Balfour + Manson, we have used many of the popular digital real-time video communication platforms such as Zoom, Facetime and WhatsApp, but an online platform, Settify, which was developed in Australia and uses artificial intelligence to interact with clients, has helped maintain a strong working relationship with clients in these different and often challenging times.
Indeed, I was delighted to be one of the first lawyers in Scotland who was part of the collaboration team that ensured Settify was fit for purpose for our legal system, so having been involved for a while, I know how this technology has evolved and provides a safe and secure level of seamless client interaction. It enables our Family Law team to structure a personalised approach with every client, providing instant, customised information, relevant to individual circumstances.
Designed for the individual
Settify provides a highly personalised induction to family law, as is relevant to the individual, based on the information they provide by answering a series of questions. The questionnaire can be completed for almost all family-related legal matters, including those which relate to divorce, separation, prenuptial agreements, child support and child maintenance, amongst others. It can also be used in relation to disputes over the ownership of property after the breakdown of a relationship.
Using the system, the Family Law team collects the necessary background information in relation to an individual (details about their family, assets and income etc) before any online meeting, so the dialogue focuses on giving the required advice, discussing any options available and determining a way forward. This also helps clients to have access to any documentation kept at home, so files, paperwork and reference material are all to hand and can be accessed and available during the conversation.
The program takes the individual through the relevant pathways, asking questions to gather the information one of the team needs to know in order to provide personalised advice. Artificial intelligence built into the system gives the individual a bespoke report based on those answers.
The questions asked by the system can be answered in the individual’s own time. As the process can be paused and revisited at any point, there is no pressure on the client to complete the process all at once and they can come back to it at their convenience.
Prepared for the meeting
Privacy is of course, paramount. The system gives clients the opportunity to outline their circumstances via their phone, tablet or computer and they immediately receive personalised, bespoke guidance on the family law issues relevant to their situation.
The family law solicitor will receive a report based on the information given, detailing the client's situation, which means the solicitor is able to consider the client's matter prior to the initial meeting, enabling them to provide more focused advice.
It's a huge step forward in very unconventional times, and this innovative software will be of huge benefit to clients in terms of accessibility, ease of use and allowing clients to commence their matter at their own pace and on their own terms. This in turn allows the family lawyer to focus on what they do best, helping their clients achieving their individual goals.
Shona Smith is a partner in Family Law with Balfour + Manson