Progress in modernising the Scottish courts system must not be lost once the pandemic passes, according to the leader of a Dundee solicitors.
Blackadders managing partner Johnston Clark highlighted the dramatic systemic changes caused by Covid-19.
He said 10 years of progress had been made in the last 10 months.
Potential of smaller law bills
Virtual hearings and submissions made in writing instead of in person have created “efficiencies”.
Solicitors not spending as much time travelling to courts could also mean smaller bills for customers, he claimed.
Mr Clark said: “Systems and courts have come forward 10 years in 10 months with the use of technology and ‘default to digital’.
“That must not go backwards.
“On the civil side, virtual hearings and proofs in writing have created huge efficiencies.
“Going forward, I think there will be a presumption that things will be done digitally when they can.
“I think there will be benefits for clients. If your solicitor is in Dundee and the hearing is in Aberdeen Sheriff Court previously you’d have the time and travel for solicitors.”
Blackadders has also changed its internal processes. Meetings, proof of identification and billing are all done digitally where possible.
Major employer in Tayside
Mr Clark said the impact of the pandemic on the business was “less than initially might have been feared”.
Closure of the courts during the first lockdown, hit its litigation and executory practices.
The residential property side of the business has seen strong demand since the market reopened in July.
Its wealth management arm also performed well last year, with strong client retention and new instructions.
“We know we can cope with pandemic conditions and maintain client service,” he said.
“The main concern is for the wellbeing of our staff, and a period of recession and high unemployment will inevitably affect some of our lines.”
The company has 28 partners and 206 staff. 150 workers are based across its Tayside offices in Dundee, Arbroath and Perth.
Blackadders also has offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Use of the furlough scheme means staffing levels have not changed since before the pandemic.
Investing in trainees
Newly filed accounts for the year ending March 31 2020 show Blackadders had a turnover of £13.9 million, a 21% rise from 2019.
Profits for the financial period before members’ remuneration and profit share was recorded at £3.9m, a rise from £2.8m the previous year.
Mr Clark said this reflected the benefits of its acquisitions of Plenderleath Runcie in Aberdeen in April 2019 and Morisons LLP’s Glasgow business.
“Also, our long-term succession planning, staff training and focus on more complex and valuable work across the disciplines paid off,” he added.
The law firm stared nine new trainees in September.
Earlier this week it announced the appointment of a new partner, Lynn Melville, formerly a partner at BTO Solicitors.
Blackadders’ wealth management business, which files separate accounts, showed revenues of £1.9m last year with profits of £637,000.
Mr Clark said he hoped a new management team, led by Jamie Daniels, Duncan Arthur and Gillian Strathdee, ensures succession for many years ahead.