Leading law firm pioneers online system as virus threat sparks a surge in wills

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    A leading law firm which has seen a surge in demand for wills and family-related enquiries during the Covid-19 lockdown is the first in Wales to pioneer a new remote service developed by a former computer games inventor.

    Swayne Johnson, which has offices across North Wales and Cheshire, saw a 60 per cent spike in enquiries about wills immediately after lockdown.

    At the same time there has been a rise in enquiries relating to Powers of Attorney and family law issues around arrangements concerning children and finances.

    Social distancing has seen the firm’s lawyers in gloves and armed with hand-sanitiser obtaining signatures in gardens and through open windows while family courts are operating remotely by video and telephone conferencing.

    Director and Head of the Private Client department Lynette Viney-Passig puts much of that down to the pandemic and she said: “It has certainly concentrated minds where wills are concerned.

    “Understandably, people are anxious and have sought reassurance that the firm remains open for business and they can still get a professionally prepared will and advice on getting their affairs in order.

    “We had been looking for some time at online systems that would help us to improve the accessibility of our services and engage with clients at their convenience and we came across Settify.

    “We’re delighted to be the first firm in Wales to introduce it. Clients can now visit our website and start the will making process in the comfort of their own home and at a time that suits them.

    “They can use the online system to enter as much or as little information as they feel comfortable with. Settify then intelligently uses that information to guide the client through the will making process, explaining terminology and highlighting points for consideration along the way.

    “Once a client has engaged with us using Settify, we allocate the new matter to a member of our excellent team of lawyers who then makes contact to discuss the best way to move forward.

    “At the moment, we are meeting with clients over the telephone or via video conferencing.

    “Once the will has been prepared and is ready to be signed we are happy to visit clients at home to complete the signing, taking gloves and hand sanitiser with us, but if necessary we can even do that remotely, watching and telling clients when and where they and their witnesses need to sign.

    “With the cooperation of helpful neighbours acting as witnesses when necessary we have been able to do all that while observing social distancing.”

    Swayne Johnson, which can trace its roots back over 170 years to its beginnings in Denbigh, now has six offices across North Wales and Cheshire in Menai Bridge, Llandudno, St Asaph, Denbigh, Ruthin and Tattenhall, near Chester.

    They cover most areas of the law including commercial, agricultural and property but the biggest effect of the pandemic has been on the private client, powers of attorney and family law sectors.

    Head of Family Law and director in charge of IT Jon Moriarty recommended the Settify system after seeing it in action and he said: “I’m delighted that we are the first in Wales to embrace this technology as it fits with our investment in IT and our ethos of providing a 21st century service.

    “It was originally developed for Family Law and has been expanded to cover Wills and private client work and essentially it only costs potential clients a short amount of time instead of paying a qualified lawyer for the clerking services of taking down information.

    “With the current pandemic it’s really come into its own and in lockdown we are seeing a marked increase in family matters relating to maintenance or lump sum payments where financial circumstances may have changed and arrangements concerning children because of social distancing and travel issues.

    “I would also expect that as lockdown comes to an end we could see an increase in divorce work as a result of couples living together in isolation for long periods of time in the way we usually see just after Christmas and at the end of the school holidays.

    “Settify uses artificial intelligence to provide a possible way forward for prospective clients without the initial expense and trouble of making an appointment with a law firm.”

    Edward Kirk, Head of Settify UK, said: “The system was invented in Australia three years ago by family lawyer Max Paterson and IP and Corporate lawyer Athol Birtley.

    “Athol is also a programmer and in his teens created a computer game which was acquired by video games giants Electronic Arts.

    “Settify is taking off in the UK as more and more people are looking to do things online, particularly given the lockdown.

    “For lawyers it’s about making their services accessible and meeting clients where and when they want to rather than expecting them to take a couple of hours out of their day to come to the office.”

    For more on Swayne Johnson go to http://www.swaynejohnson.com/