Aidan Tuohy is an Newly Qualified Solicitor with Neilsons Solicitors and Estate. During the first twelve months of his training contract, Aidan was based in the Scottish Borders dealing with residential conveyancing and private client matters. Now Aidan works solely in residential conveyancing, ordinarily in Edinburgh City Centre but currently working from home.

 

The ongoing health crisis is unlike anything seen since the Second World War, resulting in COVID-19 now being described as the first ‘modern pandemic.’ Its impact on wider society cannot be understated however the solicitor estate agency industry – like many other industries - has been innovating and adapting at a remarkable rate to still provide a helpful and cutting-edge service to their clients.

Things which we would normally take for granted such as meeting our friends for a pint or going to a football match have suddenly become a high-risk activity. Although it is anticipated that there may be a loosening of the current social distancing measures at some stage, this will be limited and gradual in its scope. It remains that we will need to adjust ourselves to a new ‘normal,’ which will be very different to how life was prior to this pandemic, not just in our personal lives but also our professional lives.

Consequentially, it has been the case – almost overnight - that the legal profession in Scotland has absolutely required to adapt to this new normal whilst working within the government guidelines and much required social distancing measures to halt the spread of the virus and protect the NHS and the most vulnerable in society.

In the situation we currently find ourselves in, staying still is equal to moving backwards.

Working in a busy high street practice at Neilsons Solicitors and Estate Agents, the focus of my work and that of my colleagues relates to estate agency, residential sale and purchase and private client work.

In a short period of time, there has been a considerable adjustment in working practices to ensure that our client services continue, whilst ensuring the safety of staff and clients alike and adhering to the very necessary government lockdown and social distancing measures which we wholeheartedly support.

One innovative means of working with the social distancing restrictions has been the increased use of video technology.

This has allowed solicitors to not only offer consultations with clients by video, but it has ensured that deeds such as wills and Powers of Attorney are properly witnessed by video in line with the Requirements of Writing Scotland Act. At a time when people are far more aware of their own morality, this has allowed clients affairs to be put in order and provide them with peace of mind against the backdrop of this health crisis. As solicitors, we know it is rarely appropriate to delay an instruction for a will or Power of Attorney and the Law Society acted very quickly to enable us to use video calls as a possible method for witnessing.

Innovative video methods have also been adopted quickly by pro-active property teams with virtual video appraisal and valuations and virtual viewings or 360 property tours now 'the norm'.

Since lockdown, Neilsons clients have accepted 21 offers and we now have 30 properties lined up to go on the market in the future when it is safe for photographers and surveyors to attend. There continues to be huge pent up demand bubbling beneath the surface despite the sleeping property market.

The property market is always a hot topic with the public and the press often wrongly apply what’s happening in the rollercoaster London or South East England market to the rest of the UK. The truth is – there is no such thing as a UK property market. The UK is a patchwork of local markets, each with its own dynamics. The east of Scotland property market is remarkably resilient and has remained buoyant with a groundswell of client enquiries and demand for services during lockdown.

The recent formulation of the ‘Edinburgh Pro-Active Property Group’ (EPPG) which includes Neilsons, Warners, VMH and Deans is ensuring that relevant content and statistics on the local market is getting out there to the public weekly. EPPG is helpfully releasing weekly blogs on property market statistics, tips and advice in this current market, and the EPPG group is certainly a trusted brand because these firms represent 25% of the local property market in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

Pro-active organisations like EPPG, who have been quick and responsive to adopt innovative methods, have also ensured that a vitally important part of the economy continues unabated during the pandemic but this is really as a result of their clear commitment to client service.

This new digital world continues to evolve in other legal ways. Conveyancing solicitors have often complained at the lack of an electronic format offered by the Keeper of Scotland. In a matter of weeks, Registers of Scotland have helpfully implemented a new service to allow deeds and advance notices to be electronically registered. This has allowed some urgent transactions to settle and prevented financial hardship for those clients. It is hoped this will be one of the changes as a result of COVID-19 to continue, along with all the other innovative methods addressed previously.

The innovation and resilience of the legal profession during the pandemic has ensured that our clients’ needs are met regardless. Although normality as we know it is very unlikely to return any time soon, it remains that many solicitor estate agents in Scotland will continue to find new ways to ensure successful outcomes for clients and this will undoubtedly provide clients with a better, more technological and adaptive service in the months and years to follow.