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Working safely through COVID-19: Temple Heelis

Temple Heelis, Kendal Temple Heelis, Kendal

Temple Heelis has been providing legal advice in Cumbria for over 200 years, with service and timely advice being absolutely at the heart of everything we do, going back to the days of Beatrix Potter.

To do that in today’s world means having up-to-the-minute technology, as well as the expertise to make sure we use it well.

Unlike some law firms of our size, we have always had our own in-house IT Manager supporting our 30-strong team of lawyers and administrative staff. Our ability to adjust to the current pandemic has been greatly enhanced by both our IT Manager’s availability and his expertise, and by the investments we have made in the best software for our sector.  Last year, for example, we rolled out the latest in our new software systems and moved into ‘the cloud’, with our systems hosted at Microsoft utilising their Azure cloud services, providing a secure infrastructure for our working environment.

Being ‘fast on our feet’ in decision-making has also been a key feature of our firm. As news of the pandemic spread across the world we took the decision to purchase a number of new laptops in case additional home working should be required.  Once the government issued its advice for home working wherever possible, we arranged for nearly all of our staff to work from home. We have only furloughed a small number of staff where we and they agreed it would be sensible to do so at the moment. Many staff continuing to work have taken their desktops home, and have been set up to work from there.  In each case our IT manager has remotely assisted the staff member to get up and running from home and to put security measures in place. Having a cloud based system has made it very easy for staff to log on from home and work in the same way as they can at the office.  Equally importantly, our client information is protected with high levels of security and confidentiality.

Our people have embraced the new ways of working, often suggesting ideas themselves such as posting on online forums about how we are continuing to serve clients. In addition, we have greatly increased the use of telephone conference calls and video conferencing.

Within our offices themselves, we have two people continuing to work in Windermere and three in Kendal.  All are following the government’s guidelines on social distancing and safe working. The directors and our HR Manager continue to be in regular contact with each staff member to ensure they are safe and feel safe.  Staff working from home can send letters and documents to print at our offices and then the core team of staff can arrange for them to be printed and posted out.  Telephone calls are received in the normal way, but then transferred by our switchboard directly to the mobile phones of our solicitors working from home.

In terms of work levels, as you would expect, there has been some degree of change. The property market is seizing up, the courts are closed to all but emergency hearings, and some non-essential work is being postponed by clients.  However, in other areas of work we have seen a noticeable spike, most particularly in the private client area where individuals and families are keen to ensure their Wills, Powers of Attorney and family matters are properly taken care of. Much of this work would normally be done face-to-face, particularly important in the area of Wills. We have been meeting clients, where phone or video isn’t possible, in the open air and, when it comes to executing (signing) the Wills, we have done so on clients’ driveways and in back gardens. The clients and our members of staff acting as witnesses have kept a safe distance from each other, a process aided by the good weather we have enjoyed since the lockdown began.

To replace the normal banter of office life, one of our directors set up a WhatsApp group for staff to post messages about how they are getting on working at home and spending their free time.  This has been really well received and has been a real morale booster.

Some of the things we have found ourselves doing at this difficult time are unlikely to be repeated when normal service resumes. In other areas, changes that would inevitably happen will have been greatly hastened due to the epidemic - and we would envisage continuing to make greater use of telephone meetings, multi-party videoconferencing and home working.

Read guidance on safe working from the multi-agency Cumbria Strategic Coordination Group here.

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