Covid-19 has thrown many legal processes into disarray. Ranging from virtual meetings to e-signings and digital courts, the legal sphere has been catapulted into the technological revolution that it probably did not expect for at least another decade. The speed at which firms have had to adapt has been as unprecedented as the times we face. The pandemic has therefore served to add a phenomenal pressure to an already highly competitive and saturated market; creating an arena for a battle between law firms for clients with increasingly tighter budgets.
There are many ways in which firms are trying to nudge ahead of the competition. Indeed, many are looking to technology, legal operations and enhanced communication streams to give themselves a competitive edge. Whilst these firms are moving in the right direction, it goes without saying that it is important that they do not forget the long-established, fundamental principle of the profession: always act in the best interests of your client.
Many law firms would see themselves to be doing just this as they adapt rapidly to the lockdown that has been enforced; bringing in digital solutions and doing everything they can to support their clients. Yet in their haste to do this, many firms have been postponing maybe even neglecting the first and perhaps the most fundamental element of the lawyer-client relationship. This is verifying your client before you act on their behalf or, in legal business parlance, before accepting money into the client account.
Verification, whether paper-based or electronic, is a habitual part of contemporary legal services. Whether or not the processes used by firms pre-Covid were sufficient is itself a topic for debate. The norm has typically been to request that a (prospective) client brings an ID and evidence of their address to the firm’s office for a copy to be taken. The firm would then either manually confirm the ID visually and conduct ad hoc checks, or upload the documents onto an electronic verification system. This all seems quite simple when things are going right. But when you think about the process itself, which is largely vulnerable to human error and subjectivity, one can question whether existing processes would ever truly pick up when something should be wrong. This becomes all the less likely when one considers the prospective client waiting in the lobby ready to begin a matter.
Usher in Covid-19 which has removed this in-person exchange of identification. How are firm’s completing this process during lockdown when clients cannot come into the office? Many are emailing copies of their IDs, using instant messaging channels such as WhatsApp, and even using video conferencing such as Zoom to verify that a client is who they say they are. Of course, these methods do initially seem logical. Provided one can draw the parallels needed, there should be no reason that something should go amiss.
However, verifying in this way brings in a host of new risks. In 2016, fraud through channels such as email rose by 19% and online banking transactions soared by 64% (Econsultancy, 2016). This has only increased to date and shows how such methods are exposing clients to these risks unnecessarily. There is also the question of client data. When one considers the data-mining model which underpins many non-professional applications such as WhatsApp, this provides yet another neglected risk that lawyers are exposing clients to through these methods of verification. Overall, these ad hoc solutions are by no means putting the interests of clients first and, unlike other improvements that have been hustled in post-Covid, have only made a bad legal process worse.
It is with this in mind that The Link App has been working on an extensive project involving compliance and management teams from multiple firms of varying size and specialism. We have recognised that ID verification can be used to increase the safety of your client and improve their client experience. For those that are familiar with The Link App, we offer a secure and encrypted platform for document sharing, instant messaging, case updates and milestone setting for lawyers and their clients. At the heart of this platform is therefore the combination of security and experience, and our research has found that ID verification can integrate these two elements further whilst providing a solution to a problem that is going largely unnoticed.
The Link App’s ID verification function offers two vital enhancements to any ID verification process. The first is a bespoke verification solution. The App allows the firm to select the level of verification that they seek from a client; whether that be simply their data such as name and address, ID verification such as through a passport or driving licence, and/or a full AML and PEP check. The advantage of this is that you can tailor the information that you need and decide what is required when it comes to re-verification. It also provides a simple way to notify your client that ID verification is required through the push notification on their smartphone.
The second part of our solution is the choice of a second layer of verification using biometrics. Your firm can decide whether to opt for a traditional form of verification, such as that a client comes into the office (Covid-permitting) or to give a client the option to self-verify. The latter will involve a client using the camera on their smartphone or computer to take a picture (selfies) of their ID and themselves. The platform will then verify the match using a global system which draws upon trusted databases around the world. This added layer of verification removes issues such as subjectivity and human error, whilst significantly mitigating the likelihood of false-positive results. The solution, therefore, grants a secure and more enjoyable experience for clients; increasing the likelihood that they will seek your advice before the client relationship has even begun.
Our ID verification feature follows shortly behind the launch of Tasks in The Link App- a smarter way to keep track, set due dates and send automatic reminders about taks the client needs to complete to progress their matter. We released Tasks in October 2020.
The Link App’s ID verification would show your client that you are serious about putting their interests, security and experience first; an intangible but vital realisation that is needed in the current climate. The feature is due imminently and in the meantime, we would be happy to talk to you about how it can help your firm. Or why not book a demonstration with our team.