Nicholas Emmerson, partner at Gateley Legal and deputy president of Leeds Law Society, is chairing the judging panel of the Yorkshire Legal Awards 2020. Here, he provides an update on how the legal profession is responding to the Covid-19 outbreak and why it’s important that its stories are shared
How are Gateley Legal and Leeds Law Society responding to the current crisis?
Nicholas Emmerson: Activity has, understandably, reduced since March 2020, as a result of the disruption caused by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic to our clients and to our staff.
Gateley remains highly resilient, with a strong client base and a well-balanced and diversified service offering. We have successfully mobilised our staff to work from home in line with all government guidelines and many parts of the business are currently busy assisting clients with Covid-19 related issues as well as other ongoing matters.
Leeds Law Society managed to hold its annual dinner on 12 March but cancelled its June annual conference. The office is now physically closed but virtually open. The uncertainty around scheduling future events due to Covid-19 is our biggest challenge. As a member of the board of the national law society and as the law society council member for Leeds, I have been involved with the national law society’s response to Covid-19 and it has produced excellent detailed guidance. This can be accessed by either the national or Leeds Law Society’s websites.
Thank you for joining and chairing the Yorkshire Legal Awards 2020 judging panel—given the current crisis, how are legal services being affected right now, and is the profession itself weathering the storm?
Nicholas Emmerson: Despite these unprecedented challenges, it remains critical for management teams to proactively plan to mitigate the risks to their staff, business and stakeholders.
At the heart of a rapidly developing situation, it can be hard to know what decisions to take in the best interests of the long-term survival and success of firms. Some commentators state that law firms cannot assume that their futures will be the same as they knew pre-Covid-19 but they are unclear as to what that future and success will actually look like.
Our people continue to work hard under these extremely challenging circumstances to ensure our clients continue to receive the outstanding level of service which they have come to expect from Gateley.
Gateley is a resilient and well-balanced business and our economic and geographically diversified business model is well-placed to withstand difficult economic conditions.
What would you like to see from Yorkshire Legal Awards entrants this year?
Nicholas Emmerson: I would like to see entrants demonstrate how they have been forward thinking in the legal market.
Innovation comes in many forms: it may be in terms of their people, processes, services or promotions. Although we are still living through Covid-19, it would be great to hear how entrants blended innovation and their response to the crisis. This in turn may provide greater insight into the alternative future predicted by commentators.
Leeds Law Society has a big focus on legal tech—do you think that will be reflected in submissions, or do you believe that the city and Yorkshire as a region have a way to go before legal tech begins to dominate their services?
Nicholas Emmerson: One of the biggest trends in law is the rise in legal technology, as an increasing number of law firms are recognising the greater working efficiencies and cost savings attached with the technology.
Covid-19 has made us all stand up and think about embracing this technology as we adapt to an agile working environment and to begin to assess to what extent that will be at the heart of the predicted future change.
Leeds Law Society is working with Leeds City Council, Whitecap Consulting, the University of Law Leeds and many firms on an exercise mapping legal tech and innovation in the region. We are excited to see the outcome of that later in the year—and we know that legal tech and innovation are thriving in Leeds firms.
Legal tech is more often than not to support lawyers’ service delivery rather than the ‘totality’ of the service—so I do not think that we need to look for the point that legal tech ‘dominates’ the services of law firms. What it will be interesting to see in the submissions is the way that different law firms are using tech (or even developing tech) or are innovating more generally to create better internal systems and to give better client service delivery.