Judge Spotlight: David Baskerville

In a series of Supporters in Focus pieces, we are thrilled to introduce our Judges of The British Wills and Probate Awards 2021 

Alongside headline sponsor Executor Solutions we look forward to recognising achievement, highlighting progression and championing innovation. 

However, the awards couldn’t take place without the hard task of judging and shortlisting the entries. It’s not a task many would take on, but we are extremely grateful to those that have. 

Today we profile David Baskerville, a new judge to the British Wills and Probate Awards. 

We’re delighted to have David Baskerville with us for the fourth year of The British Wills & Probate Awards. First of all, tell us who you are and what you do 

I’m David Baskerville, Consultant at Baskerville Drummond. We help Law Firms understand and define their IT challenges, select and implement technology and act as Virtual IT Directors / trusted Advisors for many of our clients.  

What initially sparked your interest in the sector? 

To be honest, initially it was the prospect of a secure, local job. I was working for a Internet company when the “dotcom” bubble burst and the firm was looking to make 50-60% redundancies. I jumped quickly to become Development Manager at Thompsons Solicitors the massive PI firm. Whilst it was initially an accidental quirk of fate I have retained my interest due to the constant evolution and challenge it brings.  

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in the Wills and Probate sector? 

This is a very varied field of law so be prepared for everyday to be different.  

Client service is the key to any private client work and particularly in this area where you are dealing that the most personal elements of people’s lives. Make sure you develop your soft skills as they are particularly essential. 

As an IT person I often hear Wills & Probate practitioners suggesting that given a more elderly client base the use of technology to interact with these clients is not relevant.  However, there is now a strong and growing core of “silver surfers” who are more than happy to transact their business using technology platforms. I’d recommend discussing individual needs rather than broad-brush approaches. 

What improvements do you think could be made to the Wills and Probate sector? 

In short, better use of technology by firms to offer flexible options to clients. 

It is not unusual for us to see firms whose Wills and Probate teams have no case management provision in place.  Of those that do, they are often using systems that are completely separate from, and often not integrated with, the firm’s other case management or practice management systems and often the systems used do no have any form of interface for the client. 

It is unclear whether this condition exists because it is felt adequate systems do not exist, systems exist but are not known by the practitioners , Wills and Probate teams lack the impetus to look for better solutions or assume their clients do not want them or lastly whether these teams are not felt by the firm to warrant the expenditure on such systems.  Whatever the reasons, solution providers in this area need to demonstrate how they can provide easy to use and cost effective solutions. 

For example, the Wills market, is awash with solutions that claim to guide you through the process of drawing up a Will on line but often this covers only the most basic Will and any deviation from that leads the client into a more traditional engagement.  The fee can look attractive up-front but again is only a starting point and any changes to the standard Will require lawyer intervention and the associated fee. 

Most Will situations are complex in one way or another but not so complex that a really well designed automated system could not handle the entire process with a fee scale that is obvious from the outset. 

Equally, most law firms see standard Wills as a loss-leader to create a wills bank for future Probate work. Why not invest in a product that allows that process to be far more clear, streamlined and accessible to clients. 

Probate on the other hand is obviously very much a lawyer guided process, but many of the systems available for this are ‘old technology’ – particularly where they Estate Accounts are combined with a Case Management System.  Often law firms resort to spreadsheet based management of Estate Accounts  – some of which are highly comprehensive and complex, but may be difficult to manage in the longer term and lack integration to the required forms. 

There are some excellent products emerging in the market for Probate, so it will be interesting to see how law firms are using these to provide instant, clear information (including Estate Accounts) to the various interested parties  

As a Judge of the awards, what will you be looking for to identify that winning entry? 

Each category will have its own specialisms which will obviously be key but across the board I’ll be looking for a freshness of approach, and the ability to show “evidence” of walking the walk as well as talking the talk.  

It is also essential that entries “answer” the questions which are posed on the submission form. As a Judge it’s really hard if you have to go through trying to “pick out” information hidden in a pile of blurb. 

How important do you think it is to recognise achievement in the sector? 

I think recognising achievement is key in all sectors. We can all get caught up in the day to day without really appreciating how far we have come or things we have achieved. Recognition by your peers, both internally and in the wider market is hugely motivational for those who work so hard. 

What are the most prominent challenges the industry is facing at the moment? 

The unregulated nature of the industry means that anyone can draft a Will or advise on Probate, undercutting quality work from reputable firms.  Achieving profitability whilst being efficient and providing the client with an excellent service is probably the greatest challenge. 

The rapid adoption of technology to see firms through COVID has been amazing. However, most of these changes are reactive and relating to how people access work rather than how people do the work or interact with clients. 

We can hope the next stage of adoption will be for firms to truly change the way they work using technology to improve profitability and client service.  

Thank you to David Baskerville for your support for The British Wills & Probate Awards 2020. 

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