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Digitalisation of legal practices

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Category: Private Client
15 February 2021

shutterstock 1691055040 video call

When the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, it caused unprecedented turbulence to everyday lives, perhaps most notably causing a major shift in working practices. Legal professionals were forced to adopt new practices to navigate the obstacles that digital working presented, whilst still delivering the most comprehensive legal advice to clients.

Homeworking, as a public health measure, in response to the pandemic has been a crucial factor in mitigating the transmission of the virus amongst the general population, becoming a catalyst for digitalisation and modernisation of traditional legal practices.

The preclusion of individuals meeting has facilitated the relaxation of any rule of law which requires a solicitor or notary to be physically present when the granter signs a document, where physical presence would have ordinarily been essential. Accordingly, a solicitor or notary may authenticate a document remotely using video technology during the coronavirus crisis, whilst social distancing measures apply.

Historically, for a Will to be valid, it required the presence of a witness, however new temporary legislation has enabled Wills witnessed via video conferencing to be legally binding. This legislation, effective from September 2020, and backdated to 31 January 2020, will remain in place for two years, or for as long as is ‘deemed necessary’. This transition to a more fluid and efficient way of preparing a Will is, of course, subject to additional stipulations and in all instances the solicitor must have a clear view of the person and the act of signing as well as the signature of the Will maker (or person authorised to sign on their behalf) and the witness. The making of the Will should also be recorded, and the audio file saved for future reference.

The legislation that governs the signing of Powers of Attorney requires that the solicitor certifying capacity has interviewed the granter immediately before the granter signs the document. Self-isolation, as a result of the pandemic, has enabled the Law Society of Scotland to allow video conferencing to be adopted to satisfy this legislative requirement, if a face-to-face meeting is not possible. Thereby allowing the solicitor to provide the granter with the Power of Attorney in advance, either by post or by email.

The document must be unsigned, prior to the interview and providing the solicitor is satisfied that the granter has capacity, then, at the solicitor’s request, the granter should sign the document and the witness should sign as appropriate. The principal signed document should then be returned to the solicitor as soon as possible.

Paris Steele have been making full use of available technology to communicate safely and securely with our clients, enabling instructions to be taken by email, telephone or video conferencing and documents provided either electronically or by post. If you are thinking about drawing up a Will, or wish to prepare a Power of Attorney, please do not hesitate to contact one of our experienced Private Client solicitors, who would be happy to assist you.

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