With the extreme difficulties of 2020 and 2021 behind us, Dean Grindle of JRS Consultants sets out his views on how law firms are viewing the year ahead.
The PII market is extraordinarily hardened, with fewer insurers around and little competition in the marketplace. As a result, many firms are seeing significant increases in premiums, particularly if they have a poor claims history and a high proportion of Conveyancing work relative to their overall turnover. It is likely that a number of firms will struggle on in 2022 trying to maintain the huge premiums and all it will take is a slight downturn in income to tip them over. Law firms need to present themselves to insurers in the best possible light
Our clients report that getting the right people has been a major challenge during 2021 and that seems likely to continue in 2022. Particular problems have been observed in Family, Conveyancing and Crime. In Crime, the CPS is drawing far too many criminal solicitors away from private practice, leading to critical shortages. Government action is well overdue in relation to this as the criminal defence system is in a parlous state. Only last month, the CLAR (Criminal Legal Aid Review) was released with very worrying findings and the call for very urgent action to be undertaken. The MoJ state they will respond by March,
We have started to detect a pick-up in new Lexcel clients, following the dark days of Covid-19. We suspect that this will continue in 2022. Some of the increase has been driven by the Legal Aid Agency’s 2022 Crime Tender, where Lexcel or Specialist Quality Mark status is a pre-requisite for a contract. Our sense is that it is also driven by a genuine recognition that firms need to work smarter in the post-pandemic era and Lexcel provides the solid foundations for improving management control and reducing the likelihood of complaints and claims.
Clearly, the elephant in the 2022 living room has to be Covid-19! A major challenge for firms will be to effectively manage the home/office working arrangements. Many staff like working from home. Others have perhaps become irrationally fearful of returning to the office. However, many firms are concerned about the productivity and efficiency of extensive home working. You only need to look at PII proposal forms this year to see how nervous insurers are about home working. Home working offers considerable opportunities for firms but if they fail to address the supervisory, staff welfare, communications and technology aspects, the consequences in terms of complaints, claims, staff morale and profitability could be huge. We find that Lexcel has provided a great foundation for all our firms on which to build, address and mitigate the above issues.
Firms face major financial pressures in 2022. Even without PII rises, we are seeing an increase in inflation and a potential series of interest rate rises. Energy costs are heading skywards and minimum wage increases, allied to National Insurance rises, will all combine to pile the pressure onto firms. One can only speculate as to the impact of this on the property/conveyancing market. A major concern of firms is the general air of uncertainty about the future making business planning almost impossible.
Conveyancing practitioners in particular report increasingly challenging behaviour from clients. This is clearly a consequence of the stresses and strains of the last two years. Many clients have become very demanding, bombarding staff with emails, needing significant hand-holding, requesting constant updates and behaving unreasonably. There is no reason to think that this will suddenly decline in 2022 and firms will need to effectively manage client expectations, in addition to addressing staff welfare concerns. Firms also need to become better at identifying difficult clients at an early stage. Firms should consider building such criteria into their risk management policies and assessments.
The last two years have seen firms investing heavily in new case management systems and that will continue apace particularly with firms seeking to facilitate remote working and migrate to paper-light operations. Such reliance on IT means that firms should not skimp on cyber security and we will see increasing investment in protective measures, as well as initiatives such as Cyber Essentials where we have seen considerable recent growth.
Dean Grindle is a specialist law firm risk and compliance consultant at JRS Consultants specialising in SRA, Lexcel, CQS and AML compliance.