The government has confirmed that solicitors can meet clients in their firms if this is necessary during the second lockdown.
The Law Society said it has met with officials from various government departments this week and secured agreement on interpretation of the rules that law firm offices are able to remain open during this period.
Solicitors and law firm staff should from home if possible but if this is not possible, they can leave home to work in the office. Solicitors must try to see clients remotely and deliver services virtually, but again if this is not possible then face-to-face meetings are permitted.
Uncertainty was caused by exceptions included in the rules surrounding the new lockdown, which lasts until at least 2 December.
People are allowed to leave their home to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court, or to participate in legal proceedings. They can also access public services such as asylum or immigration advice or services provided by charities and voluntary organisations.
Discussions are continuing about what constitutes a ‘legal proceeding’, but for now the restrictions allow people to travel to buy services from premises that are open. Clarification is also still being sought whether solicitors can attend a vulnerable client’s home, for example to deal with a private client matter such as lasting power of attorney.
Under the rules, the definition of key workers is the same as the first lockdown, so this includes barristers, solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and others who work on imminent or ongoing court or tribunal hearings. Solicitors acting in connection with the execution of wills are also classed as key workers.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has clarified that for client due diligence and ID checks, face-to-face contact is not necessarily required, but solicitors may wish to consider whether using email, telephone or virtual appointments is enough to be sure about someone’s identity.