The past year has certainly been one of big changes, and whilst current predictions suggest a limited return to the office at some point in the summer, a degree of agile or remote working seems to be here to stay.
One small comfort is that we have not seen any particularly new risks arising from the shift to remote working, however it has accentuated some existing risks in different ways. Lockton is hosting a panel discussion on this on Friday, 30 April at 2:45-4pm, with colleagues from lead insurer RSA and panel firm BTO, which we hope you will be able to attend.
In the meantime, here are a few examples of things to look out for in your own firm.
This type of fraud will only increase as remote working encourages use of emails over posted letters. We know of two near-misses already this year, which were convincing enough that they were spotted only because the clients were sufficiently aware of the risk and contacted their solicitor to check the requests were genuine. Fraudulent emails used to be simple to spot – usually from their poor English or obviously fake email addresses – but are getting more sophisticated.
Make sure your firm has secure and well understood procedures for taking and verifying clients’ bank details and making payments. Details received by email should be verified using a separately confirmed phone number, and there should be a strict understanding that bank details on either side will not change during the transaction.
Scammers are not going to give up on this one, so we all need to to keep one step ahead.
Support for colleagues
Remote working is a welcome change for some, but presents real risks in the obstacles it creates to easy communication between colleagues. Creating an atmosphere in which people can ask for help has always been important, but is especially difficult just now without the opportunities for quick conversations that an office environment presents. Junior members of a team are perhaps the worst hit by this – especially current first-year trainees, who will probably never have met most of their colleagues.
Encourage members of the team at all levels to think about whether there are colleagues they haven’t spoken to in a while and to consider checking in on them – remembering that it doesn’t have to be about work! Normalising frequent and spontaneous communication like this should encourage a culture of openness despite the physical separation, as well as reducing feelings of isolation and keeping spirits up. It will also help to open channels if colleagues are finding themselves struggling, or have ended up in a tricky spot and need some help out of it.
Only a small number of claims intimated on the Master Policy actually arise through mistakes made advising on the law. More often they come from mistakes or missed steps in procedures, including missed filing or registration deadlines. Whilst many firms nowadays will have electronic ways of tracking these, not all do; and even for those which do, the system may not be work-from-home-proof. The reduced colleague interaction and detachment from physical documents that working from home creates can increase the risk of tasks falling between stools and of deadlines not being logged or met.
Think about how reliable your procedures are for keeping track of deadlines. If your staff are used to working through physical bundles of deeds for registration, how effectively are they keeping track of scanned ones? If your department has moved to an intranet or Outlook diary of court dates, does everyone necessary have access to it and is there a rota for checking on upcoming deadlines?
Requiring each fee earner to keep on top of their own deadlines is all very well as an internal policy, but won’t protect a firm if something crucial gets missed. We are all under more pressure than before, so think about what procedures could be introduced to catch these simple mistakes before they happen.
We will be publishing a number of risk management items over the coming months on the Lockton Resource Centre pages at https://www.locktonlaw.scot/news/, so please check back there to keep up to date with risk management news and materials.
You can watch Lockton's panel session at 2:45 on Friday 30 April - find out more and book here.