Back in March, with the lockdown looming, my team and I had tested the technology, and moved our respective work areas home. I had even ordered a Big Mama printer. We were ready to be incredibly productive.
That first week I had scheduled to care for my dad at my place. Clearly those plans were out of the window. Once it dawned on me that he really could not come (he is 81), I cried like a baby. Our time together is precious. This was unfair.
Having settled at home, surrounded by stationery and my will binding machine, I declared it my mental health week. I was conscious of not getting to spend the week with my dad and it was a strange way of being. I did not feel motivated to work very hard and was gentle on myself. Next week, I would get going.
Enquiries were coming in. Interestingly, young people, in this new world of Covid-19, wanted to finally take action on wills. Some even felt that lasting powers of attorney (LPAs) were a priority.
I was looking forward to the new week ahead. I even had initial telephone calls booked, to chat through what to think about, before setting up a formal wills meeting.
When I woke on Monday morning something was clearly wrong. I felt peculiar and very unwell.
For the first time in my professional life, I had to cancel meetings. I had never done that. Ever.
People were very understanding. When you run a small firm, you develop a trustworthy team. I was geared up to pass new clients to trusted colleagues at other firms; so that is what I did. Some people went ahead with my fellow professionals. Some waited.
Despite having been so careful – I cannot begin to tell you how careful – it appeared that I had Covid-19.
The exhaustion was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. The stairs in my home became a challenge. I knew I needed to go downstairs to eat something. And once I had, I had to take it slowly to get back upstairs. I would sleep four to five hours, then do it all again.
The fever at night persisted.
I’d had it for about the same time as the prime minister when he went into hospital ‘as a precaution’. I considered ringing 111 but did not have the energy.
Then he was moved to ICU. My little sister rang, clearly with figurative clipboard in hand, and demanded dates, symptoms, last night’s fever stats. She ultimately decided home, rather than hospital, was the best place for me, all things considered.
Over the Easter weekend I finally became symptom-free. I am now able to take walks of up to 25 minutes – the very idea of which would have floored me completely not that long ago.
In recovery I am treating just two days a week as client-facing – the Skype or Zoom days, when I am willing to put a smart top on. Other days, I am managing my work carefully so that if I need an afternoon nap I can take one.
One of the things that has helped my small firm financially over the last month or so is relaxed payments, which is a policy we have had for a number of years. The idea is that clients decide when we prepare their will how they will pay our fixed fees. Some clients pay the whole invoice in one hit as soon as it is produced. Others space it out, making two or three payments, over two, three or six months. That is fine. Relaxed payments can only be called relaxed if they help the client relax.
How did this benefit me over previous weeks? As I lay in bed, flattened by Covid-19, money still flowed in to my business. And now, back on my feet, I am able to go ahead and prepare wills for clients who are on reduced incomes or stressed about their finances, because they know they can make use of our relaxed payments policy.
I would encourage any firm to consider relaxed payments. Your clients may love you for it. And you may love you for it, if it helps maintain your company’s cashflow at a difficult time.
Clearly this is an odd period for those of us who specialise in will drafting. It was only a couple of years back that some of we old-school dinosaurs even entertained the idea of taking instructions by video Skype. Now look at us!
We’ve all had to tighten up our ‘Instructions when Signing your Will’ and get with the programme in giving examples of how to conduct will-signing formalities, while also following government guidelines on social distancing.
If, like me, you are a member of the Law Society’s Private Client Section, you get the additional pointers and the opportunity to share ideas with fellow professionals who strive to achieve best practice.
As we all adjust to this new ‘normal’, my offering to fellow professionals is something my dear dad taught me as a child: ‘Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be surprised.’
Jane Cassell runs JC Independent Wills & Probate and is a member of the Private Client Section of the Law Society. For more details on the section, click here