The UK went into lockdown on March 23, 2020, as the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic became clear.
The population was ordered to stay at home, working from home became the new normal, and shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, theatres, gyms, and hairdressers were among the businesses force to close their doors.
As we move out of Wales’ third national lockdown, Newport solicitors Bellavia & Associates’ managing director Zep Bellavia reflects on how life has changed for them and their clients over the last 12 months.
Q: How has the Covid pandemic impacted on your business?
A: We have expanded during lockdown with one extra solicitor and two extra legal assistants employed on a full-time basis. Demand for our services has increased by over 50% from pre-Covid levels. Apart from taking out a Bounce Back Loan so we could help more people who had been adversely impacted by Covid, we have not accessed any other government grants or funding. We have taken fewer holidays and provided an even more comprehensive and responsive service.
Q: Have your staff worked from home during the crisis? If so, do you expect a full return to the office post-Covid? If not, what measures did you take to make your premises Covid-safe?
A: As key workers undertaking Court hearings and writing wills, our default position has been working safely from our offices. Our premises were swiftly adapted to the new needs with temperature testing machines, which also automatically dispense hand sanitiser, installed at the entrance to each of our premises, workstations correctly spaced, and PPE utilised as advised. We swiftly invested in Microsoft Teams to facilitate a seamless service for our clients. Each member of staff was sent to work from home to trial the new needs so that if a need to self-isolate happened, any wrinkles had been ironed out of the new systems beforehand.
Q: What technological changes did you have to bring in to meet the challenges of the ‘new normal’?
A: We overhauled our telephone system and installed Teams. We installed more robust Wi-Fi and converted a separate building to host the Virtual Court Hearings that are now the norm. All new staff have been provided with new laptops & extra screens for ease of remote working. With more and more legal work paperless, we have also invested in upgrading our copying & scanning equipment.
Q: How have your customers’ requirements changed during the last year?
A: We have dealt with more court hearings, disputes, wills, divorces, insolvency, employment, debt recovery and litigation cases generally with a recent upturn in Joint Venture Agreements and commercial work. Meetings are now conducted more by video and telephone than by appointment face to face. Our flexible pricing options have been very popular in these uncertain times.
Q: What are the biggest changes you have had to make as a business during the last year?
A: Prioritising clients’ needs, especially in the early days when we were working seamlessly while other law firms were having to evolve. We have been mindful of clients’ and staff wellbeing issues during these exceptional times. We took time out in the very early days to reach out to clients to reassure them that our service remained essentially unaffected, and we were able to continue supporting them. More people and businesses have needed urgent advice and we have developed our policy of helping immediately despite other commitments. We have been living up to our new slogan: ‘In uncertain times, you can be certain of Bellavia & Associates’.
Q: What are your hopes for the post-Covid future for your business?
A: Consolidation of our growth and continued expansion of our team of lawyers and associates. A return to more face-to-face meetings with clients and contacts. More variety in being able to meet clients and networks.