Potential Impacts on Law Firms during COVID-19.

 
Potential Impacts on Law Firms during COVID-19.
By Rosie Crownshaw, Trainee Solicitor 
In these unprecedented times every industry is going to feel the impact of Covid 19- but what effect will this outbreak have on the legal sector? And to what extent?
 
Let us begin with the area of Law I currently work in – the fast-paced world of Conveyancing. A house move alone provides its stresses for any client… now we have to factor in the current climate: that stress has been amplified exponentially.  
The government has directed that moving to a new house is not essential and that law firms should advise their clients against the conveyancing of any properties in order to prevent the spread of the viral disease. With the likes of house viewings, witnessing documents, the physical act of moving to a new house: allowing such to continue promotes bad behaviours during the current pandemic: we need to enforce social distancing and not put people at risk unnecessarily.
Many law firms are ‘old school’- they rely on sending crucial documents by fax, needing physical files present and having a constant access to their tangible archives. Unfortunately, working from home doesn’t come with a built-in fax machine! Majority of conveyancing firms are not paperless and still need access to printers, files and scanners and often have multiple people working on the same files. Communication needs to be key. I think many firms will realize that their workforce is the backbone to their business and, furthermore, that their employees are their best investment.
We are hearing further cases of clients- understandably– having instructed their solicitors to put a hold on their matters as a result of the uncertainty due to Covid 19. This has put many people (those clients wanting to continue with matters) in a blip as they may need the sale proceeds to pay for crucial expenses i.e, debt, care home fees of a parent etc.
I believe that, after the dust settles, there will be a lot of houses on the market as people will want a quick sale as a means to have quick access to funds to cover any deficit that they have occurred during the Isolation period of the virus.
 
Self-isolating can be a testing time for anyone- mentally, physically and emotionally. Especially for a married couple. The combination of boredom, a lack of household chores to and cabin fever causates a more probable ground for arguments. I do sincerely hope majority of them will not escalate but-you never know- one misplaced sock could be the straw that broke the camels back and, with limited access to couples counselling, divorce proceedings could be undertaken for some couples. Also, I pose the question: what does it mean for supervised visits with children and a parent? You’d hope said parent would not risk both themselves and their child for their allocated time, so will the courts give them time in lieu?
 
We are witnessing an unfortunate amount of businesses closing and thus putting jobs and livelihoods at risks- on a positive note, PM Boris Johnson pledged to pay 80% of staff wages out of the Government’s pocket after noticing the effects of thus ‘lockdown’. Despite this, some companies are trying to enforce zero-hour contracts upon their employees – can they do this? Has their contract made provisions or included a force majeure clause? The litigation departments of all law firms will see a rise in business as people want clarification on whether companies have the legal right to end their contract, put them on furlough etc. Which poses a further predicament to Litigators, as although there is a spike in business, it is unlikely that they will be able to take instructions if a client is unable to pay fees due to the economic ramifications of this outbreak. (Unless they offer legal aide).
 
In conclusion, my personal opinion is that law firms are likely to see a dip in work as many clients want to see how we as a country deal with the current pandemic before making any drastic, financial commitments i.e, purchasing a house, divorcing a partner. After the “lock down” period ends work will come in very quickly as the populace has held off. This current period will test the character of any firm- big or small- and prove their dedication on providing the best service to their clients through thick and thin. Like the old saying goes tough times don’t last but tough people do! And as an employee of a firm, that is confident we can pull through this together and continue to grow our business, we will come through this stronger than ever.

Temporary Adjustments to Right to Work Checks in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic



Temporary Adjustments to Right to Work Checks in light of the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Shazia Akhtar, Head of Immigration Services.
The government have published new guidance in respect to the employer process for conducting right to work checks during the coronavirus pandemic.
It is imperative that employers comply with new guidance as carrying out Right to Work check continues to be a mandatory requirement.
If an employer fails to carry out a Right to Work check then they run the risk of employing an illegal worker which could potentially lead to civil and, in the most serious cases, criminal sanctions.
As of 30 March 2020, the following temporary measures will now be permitted:
·        Checks can now be carried out via video call.
·        Job applicants can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending the original document.
Employers should take the following steps when carrying out checks via video call:
  • Step 1: Request that the worker submits a signed copy or a photo of the original documents via email or using a mobile app
  • Step 2: Arrange a video call with the worker, requesting that they hold up the original documents to the camera so that they can be checked against the digital copy of the documents
  • Step 3: Record the date that the check was made and mark as “adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to COVID-19”
  • Step 4: For individuals who hold a current Biometric Residence Permit/ Card or status under the EU Settlement Scheme, the online right to work checking service can be used while the video call is being carried out, but the applicant must confirm that they are happy for the employer to view their details
If a prospective employee is unable to provide their documents, then employers must use the Home Office  Employer Checking Service
If the person has a right to work, the Employer Checking Service will send employers a ‘Positive Verification Notice’. This provides them with a statutory excuse for six months from the date in the notice.
Adjustments are ‘temporary’
It is important for employers to note that these adjustments are temporary.
When these changes end, employers will be required to carry out retrospective full checks on existing employees who commenced employment during the pandemic.
This check must be performed within eight weeks of the COVID-19 measures ending, and this, along with the initial adjusted check, should be kept on record.
If the employee does not have permission to be in the UK and this is discovered at the point of the retrospective check, the employer must end their employment.

Where there is a will there is way…

                                     

Where there is a will there is way…
By Mary’Ann Ibe, Litigation Paralegal
It seems that the Coronavirus pandemic has sent the UK into a frenzy, expecting and preparing for the worst. This is reflected in the drastic increase in the demand for wills by 76 percent. Sadly, these concerns are not unfounded as this is a stressful and worrying time for everyone.
The rate of deaths reported by the government is alarming and the reality of the possibility of losing a loved one is hitting the people of our beloved country hard as the death toll increases daily.
Law firms around the country have seen an increase in people wanting to either make or amend their will. London based deVere group, which has an online wills service says it has seen the sharp spike in inquires as people’s minds have become ‘more focused’ on financial planning because of the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Pandemic or no pandemic, the importance of having a will cannot be underestimated – and they are not just for the elderly. The current lockdown has put a spanner in the works as we are faced with the challenge of how those self-isolating will able to get the wills witnessed.
In the UK, the testator of the will is required to have two people in the same place at the same time witness them sign/endorse the document. Since the pandemic of Covid-19, the rules have been relaxed.  Yes, Solicitors will now be allowed to witness wills through the windows of homes or cars.
Tough times call for unprecedented measures. Critics have raised the question of the validation of the will still be authentic.  Signatures will still be valid as long as each party can see the other physically endorse the document from a safe distance. This does not mean that we ignore the strict process that needs to be followed and so, if persons are at all uncertain, it is important that they seek legal advice. 
To ensure that you are protected during these trying times, Deo Volente is here help you with your Will and Probate matters.  We will diligently take on your instructions, prepare your documentation and get it to you with clear and transparent steps on how to get the will notarised in accordance with the current law.
We appreciate that these are unprecedented times and we at Deo Volente solicitors wish you all good health, and that we resume to normal life as soon as practicable.  

Can Coronavirus be classed as a Force Majeure Event?

The novel outbreak of coronavirus has been widely reported to have a huge impact on businesses where they may not be able to satisfy their contractual obligations and may face legal action as a consequence.

But whether the virus can be classed as a Force Majeure event is one which is strictly interpreted by the English Courts. A force majeure refers to a clause in contracts where liability can be prevented for natural and unavoidable disasters which restrict parties from fulfilling their obligations.

Can you rely on a Force Majeure clause if you fail to fulfill your contractual obligations?

This is a question which will be at the forefront of many businesses. To begin with parties to a contract will only be able to consider force majeure if there is an express clause in their contract. Note that a force majeure clause cannot be implied into English law contract. Albeit even if there is an express force majeure clause in a contract, this does not mean that the clause can be relied on to protect against claims for non – performance as a result of corona virus. Due to the strict approach of the courts, it will be necessary to carefully analyse the clause.

Therefore if you are someone who has been affected by this or are worried you will be unable to satisfy your contractual obligations, feel free to give us a call to schedule a 30-minute free consultation on 01234 350 244.

The impact of Coronavirus (COVID 19) on the UK Immigration System









The impact of Coronavirus (COVID 19) on the UK Immigration System
by Angel Masih, Immigration Solicitor at Deo Volente

There is a growing concern about the rapid spread of the coronavirus also known as COVID 19 and the impact it will have on the UK immigration services.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel confirmed on 24th March 2020:
·        Visa nationals who cannot return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to extend their visa.
·        This will apply to anyone whose leave expired after 24th January 2020 and who cannot leave the country because of travel restrictions or self-isolation.
·        This will last until 31st May 2020 and this will be reviewed on a regular basis if further extensions are needed.
The Home Office has temporarily permitted individuals to switch routes from within the UK. For example, an individual will be able to switch from a Tier 4 (Student) to Tier 2 (General Worker). 

The UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UK VCAS)

Sopra Steria have advised that those suffering with coronavirus symptoms should self-isolate and those with coronavirus must not attend their appointment.
Most pre-booked appointments are being automatically re-booked at the same location, approximately in six weeks’ time. Sopra Steria will also notify the Home Office of these changes.
UK Visas application centers (VACs) based abroad
VFS Global who manage visa services outside of the UK, have stopped accepting applications from most of the countries around the world. A full list of these countries can be found through the below link:
Immigration Tribunal Hearings
President of the First Tier Tribunal has stated that “From 25th March 2020, there will be no face to face hearings listed in any centre. Application for bail and emergency work will continue to be given priority but, save in exceptional circumstance, applications and hearing will be conducted remotely”.
At Deo Volente Solicitors, we understand that individuals will be facing uncertainty relating to their immigration status and we are happy to assist you during this difficult time. We are further offering telephone consultations to address any queries that you may have.
Please do not hesitate to contact us on 01234 350244 and speak to one of our team members within the immigration department.