Coronavirus: Jones Myers on protecting vulnerable clients

Coronavirus: Jones Myers on protecting vulnerable clients

The pace at which the Covid-19 outbreak went from pandemic to lockdown has left many people and businesses reeling. Nicki Mitchell, partner in charge of the Jones Myers York office, reveals how her firm is responding, and what it’s doing for clients

Effective contingency planning and some quick thinking on the part of its leadership ahead of the government-advised lockdown last month enabled specialist family law firm Jones Myers to move its entire staff to home working with minimal impact on clients, according to Nicki Mitchell, partner in charge of its York office.

“As soon as we saw the lockdown coming, we managed to set the entire firm up to work remotely,” Mitchell says. “This meant that once the lockdown arrived last month, everyone could work from home. As a result, we have only had to furlough one member of staff and been able to keep all employees on—including our secretarial staff. And from the client’s point of view, there hasn’t been much of a change.”

The biggest impact for the firm’s children and finance teams has been the move to remote working. Courts, in particular, were caught unaware, resulting in significant confusion, at least for a few days. Mitchell says: “Now everything is happening remotely and we have had to adapt to participating in court hearings, for example, using technology.”

For Mitchell as a solicitor specialising in out of court settlements, mediations and collaborative law, these are the areas where she has had to adapt. “Traditionally, much of that is done face to face, but we’re using remote technology to connect with clients. Founding partner Peter Jones, for example, is an arbitrator, providing financial dispute resolution as an alternative to court hearings. All of that work can and is being done remotely.”

Clients are responding well to this new normal, Mitchell says, because they accept that changes in wider society are placing significant restrictions on how services are delivered and received.

The challenge, she says, has been in maintaining the same working practices under the current circumstances. “What we do is quite a social job. We tend to bounce ideas off each other, because, as a specialist practice, we have a huge amount of expertise and there are very few issues that at least one member of staff hasn’t come across before.”

“So, while working remotely, we are focusing on keeping that good momentum going, through Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls. Our leadership has been really good at encouraging this and we have been making sure that the entire firm has been having those conversations.”

Most concerning for clients of Jones Myers are managing what are difficult situations at the best of times. With a pandemic and lockdown in the mix, the firm’s most vulnerable clients require greater contact and information resources.

As government advice specifies only leaving home under a strict set of circumstances, there has been increasing worry that victims of domestic abuse would face greater risks. Indeed, police forces across the country have clarified that victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown should still report their experience to the authorities and seek support from services. One such service, the National Domestic Abuse helpline, has reported a 25% increase in calls and online requests for help since the lockdown last month.

Jones Myers has made several resources available on its website in response, so far urging domestic abuse victims to heed government advice during coronavirus crisis, explaining what they need to do when contacting the police for help through the 999 service, and outlining what domestic violence services are currently available in Leeds, Harrogate and York.

Mitchell says: “These online resources came from one of our lawyers expressing concern about people who we knew were at risk. We needed a means of getting in touch that was sensitive to the needs of the particular person, whether that was giving a ring or email, or making these resources available online to say that there are steps that these individuals can take, and that the current situation doesn’t have to be riskier for them.”

Elsewhere, the children team at Jones Myers is experiencing a significant amount of work, primarily from families that have undergone or are undergoing a separation. Questions have arisen over the safety of children during the lockdown and pandemic. This is also the case in public care, with a lot of concern for children in unsafe households that cannot be monitored in the same way as they could before the lockdown. The finance team is dealing with increased financial pressures on its clients and their counterparts, with maintenance allowances and orders at risk of disruption because the party in question’s financial position has become precarious.

Do you or your law firm have insight into how legal professionals can best manage their practices during the coronavirus pandemic? Let us know via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk and we’ll feature your story on Yorkshire Legal
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Mark Dugdale

Mark is the Editor of Yorkshire Legal. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk