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Melinda Giles reflects on working through the pandemic
Melinda Giles is the Head of a Private Client and Court of Protection department and many of her clients are the elderly, the vulnerable, the bereaved or sadly sometimes, the dying.
Private client lawyers were key workers
One of the ironies of being a probate and wills solicitor is that we keep smiling through our work, and therefore we were there, at the front of the queue ready to take on the honour of being in the list of key workers. As the Law Society Council member for Private Client solicitors, and being a practising solicitor myself, I can say that I have seen incredible passion and determination amongst this genre of lawyers who have been out there, with their PPE as necessary ensuring that as far as possible those frightened and unprepared for their end of life, put as much securely in place as they can. The current law still requires two physical witnesses to a will being signed – and with social distancing and isolation the norm, this has been a challenge. But we found all sorts of ways to be innovative; from sitting on car bonnets looking through the windscreen, to pitching up our portable table and chairs next to a garden room. We taught elderly clients how to Zoom and Facetime and arranged video capacity assessments in care homes. We worked quickly and efficiently to ensure that wills were signed without delay, and we ensured that our vulnerable clients who do not have the mental capacity to deal with their own affairs had specific care in place to get them safely through.
We are lucky as my firm’s office building is an old bank that is spacious. The large banking hall has two entrances and so placing a large table in the middle of the room, arranging masked witnesses to walk in separately and from a different entrance to the client, was almost like watching a choreographed waltz. ‘Will Signing Wednesdays’ became our thing as we insisted on appointments only, leaving time in between each one to sterilise the table and chairs and unwrap fresh new pens.
Like so many of us during this time, I have been through a multitude of feelings and pressures both personal and professional, but the overwhelming reflection is one of pride in the work that I and my colleagues do, and the contribution that we made, and continue to make to those affected by the reality of dying during these most difficult of times. For 22 days in April, we heard that more than a 1,000 people a day died from Covid19. This caused a spike in people rushing to make wills, at a time when it was the most difficult for us to do so; our offices were closed, our colleagues were isolating, our care homes were shut. Now, as lockdown is easing, we are preparing for how we will continue to provide our service in winter when sitting outside looking in will not be so easy – but we will find a way!