Is probate facing a revolution?
Technology improves efficiency for probate practices without losing humanity, says Simon Farthing
In the legal practice areas that have seen rapid changes in legislation, high volumes of low cost work, increased regulation, and growing indemnity claims, those law firms that have survived and thrived have one thing in common: a high rate of technology adoption. This has been driven by the recognition that technology drives profitability, aids compliance, and facilitates achievement of strategic business goals.
By contrast, in probate, a technical and time-consuming area of law, there has been little change in either legislation or the way services are delivered and consumed. With IT investment for probate practices at the bottom of firms’ priority list, practitioners settled for Excel spreadsheets and a dictation system as their tools of the trade. This may perhaps be why practices often cite difficulty in attracting new talent – probate is seen as less fashionable and lucrative compared to other areas of law.
This may be about to change, however. The new application for probate fee change expected to come into force (post the general election) is likely to result in increased fees for some estates by thousands of per cent, affecting even those estates where everything passes to a surviving spouse. Therefore, for practitioners, keeping the cost of processing probate cases down and competitive will increasingly become an area of focus as clients look to minimise their legal costs. The greatest threat to probate practices is the increasing trend towards DIY law, given the vast amount of information available online and growing virtual expertise and services.
Probate practices need to offer value for money, an efficient and approachable service, modern on-demand forms of interaction, and communication and delivery of the highest levels of technical expertise. Technology such as a case management system can help build such a sustainable, high-quality practice for the future. It will allow lawyers to deconstruct the probate processes and reassemble them using the lowest cost resource, to deliver the requisite quality service.
Relationship management and expert enquiry are key for practices. Demonstrating empathy and compassion is also important. While systems can analyse data, they cannot extract, for instance, an understanding of the complex dynamics of a client’s family to aid estate planning. For this, practitioners need to spend time with clients. However, by inputting the information gleaned by practitioners into the technology system, practices can automate processes to reduce administration costs and improve efficiency without de-humanising the processes or eliminating personal client interactions.
Documents and forms can be compiled and displayed with a single entry of data, by the lawyer or client, via the most suitable interface. Complex calculations can be quickly and accurately produced and embedded into the relevant documents. Data can be aggregated and shared with clients using the method and format based on their personal preferences – app, browser, text, letter, or email.
With legislation starting to change and customers becoming more discerning, the technology revolution in probate is just beginning. It’s vital for practices to deploy the technology that works best for them individually and delivers a service that satisfies today’s cost-conscious clients.
Simon Farthing is director of client engagement at LexisNexis Enterprise Solutions