As we cautiously consider what a post-pandemic working world might look like, businesses across all sectors are trying to merge the benefits discovered from remote working whilst returning, in some form, to sharing a physical workspace once again. And for the professional deputy, this hybrid working model has its own unique challenges that call for consideration.
One challenge is the high level of interaction and communication that is needed within teams to effectively manage property and financial affairs in complex cases, which traditionally was achieved with everyone being under the same roof. This need for interaction is reinforced by the OPG deputyship standards, which state that “clear and effective governance between the named deputy and staff delegated to carry out the day-to-day functions of the role” and “sufficient senior internal supervision” are essential.
As face-to-face interaction has decreased, we have seen a move towards alternative solutions. In the time that has elapsed since offices across the world emptied out and our homes became our workspaces, there has been a seismic shift towards remote working and this change continues to accelerate digital transformation. It mirrors the shift in working practices and focuses minds on the benefits that digital solutions can bring.
In the context of deputyship services there is a clear necessity for systems which make accurate data available to geographically dispersed teams in real time and provide a method for teams to communicate effectively on client matters. From a simple spreadsheet to a bespoke software solution, designed in-house or sourced externally, the need for professional deputies to find tools to manage the volume of data and requirements to communicate that are associated with the general management of property and financial affairs is apparent.
With this administrative burden only ever increasing, and considering the fiduciary duty the deputy holds, the question really comes down to how can a deputy identify and measure whether one system provides better client outcomes as opposed to another? And really what is in the client’s best interests when it comes to digital solutions?
Whether you are a champion of innovation or a steward of tradition, the recently published Lawtech and Ethics Principles (Law Society, July 2021) makes for an interesting read on this topic. In the report, the Law Society identifies a range of benefits that arise because of digital transformation, from enhanced efficiency to increasing access to justice. However, as anyone who has used any form of lawtech (perhaps a document management system or automated contract software) will attest to, the presence of a digital system is not a guarantee for a better quality or more efficient service.
The SRA Principles are very clear in the duty and responsibilities that authorised individuals and firms have, and that the presence of lawtech cannot replace or reduce those. Although, of all the SRA principles, arguably the most important is the duty that solicitors must act in the best interests of their clients. This, for the professional deputy, is further reinforced by the requirement under the principles of the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (“MCA 2005”) to ensure that all decisions made for persons who lack capacity are done so in their best interests. It is for this reason that the needs of the client must be entirely central to any decisions firms take to implement the use of digital solutions and that any efficiency gains are passed onto the client.
So, why should a firm consider digital solutions in the best interests of deputyship clients? In my opinion, a well-organised system that centralises client data gives the deputy and their team the information they need to make fully informed best-interest decisions quickly and efficiently. It releases time – time for a call to the client, time to understand a new piece of assistive equipment, time to consider the performance of an investment portfolio. And time, for those in this area of law that is based on building an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the client, is an invaluable resource and one that can be hard to come by!
On the whole, whilst the benefits of lawtech for the professional deputy could be viewed as business related – efficiency gains, regulatory compliance, data protection – these benefits are ultimately in the best interest of their clients. Ultimately, a compliant deputy with a strong infrastructure for the administrative element of their role will be more available to concentrate on the issues that really matter to their clients, and that seems to be in everyone’s best interests.
Blog post by Geri Rawlins, an advisory consultant for Trojan Consultants Ltd specialising in regulatory compliance, risk management and operational efficiency. For more info contact firstname.lastname@example.org.