It may be hard to cast your mind back to a time before COVID-19, but in-house legal teams around the world were already under immense pressure. Now with an increasingly complex regulatory environment, the social and economic recovery period will undoubtedly result in even greater demand on these teams as their expertise is sought far and wide across their organisations.
Increased demand will come both from board level as companies look to protect precious cashflow, and also from the various operational management teams within the business as legal issues around supplier contracts, property disputes, and employee restructuring rapidly unfold and need to be dealt with.
The rise in demand is one thing, but if this increased workload is then coupled with an expectation that the function (like all others) may need to cut its own costs through either headcount reduction or a reduction in outside counsel spend, then the stress associated with managing the challenge will undoubtedly increase.
To best manage this, many commentators and advisors will tell you via their latest LinkedIn post that now is the time to implement radical change, or that now is the time to map your legal processes, deploy vast and complex new technologies, or to pilot project management methodologies with fancy terminology taken from a teppanyaki menu. Others will be inundating you with information that you no longer need on how to host effective video calls with your team, or dozens of tips on how to work remotely.
Stop. Be calm. Breathe. Not having an award-worthy transformation plan currently in place is not going to make you the laughingstock at the surf club. Now is time to be content, focus on the basics, and make boring the new black.
We have always asked our client community to curiously observe and learn from industries outside legal, and to take a more conscious approach to learn from history (however ancient or recent).
At Janders Dean we have been closely observing how different national health services are reacting at this time of crisis, and now more than ever we are seeing this industry rely on its core value – to provide healthcare to those who need it, when they need it. As this crisis unfolds, we believe that there are powerful lessons to be taken away and applied to the legal industry. As legal teams are expected to respond to an increasing demand for their services, the following lessons from healthcare may be useful:
- Don’t make ‘perfect’ the enemy of ‘done’. ICUs across the world have been experimenting with homemade ventilators and adjusting the rules around medical testing. To save lives, they have no other option. Similarly, you may wish to instruct your staff or outside counsel on various matters that their advice and actions may not need to be as bulletproof as usual. Many organisations will move at a rapid pace to protect or grow their markets and may have to adjust their typical risk profiles to enable this.
- Knowledge sharing is critical. Universities and medical institutions are exchanging near real time data from their intensive care units or their community tracing tools to spot trends. Open knowledge exchange and data crunching helps solve complex problems faster. Share your data, your knowledge and your information as freely and as openly as possible across the business and across your networks.
- Effective triage creates efficiency. Separate business-as-usual legal issues from those that may be critical (COVID-19 or other) as they come in. Similar to the separation of A&E departments around the world, consider creating a separate internal triage team who are temporarily tasked only to assess and steer COVID-19 related issues.
- Reimagine resourcing. To alleviate backlogs and the risk of being overwhelmed, consider temporarily leveraging those at the end of their career who can still contribute, and empowering those at the start of their careers slightly earlier.
In a move reminiscent of the Dunkirk evacuation, the UK’s NHS made a desperate cry for retired medical personnel to assist, while also altering regulations to allow medical students in their final year of study to assist with triage.
You may have these resources in your company or team already, you may need to expand your network to find them, or you may want to work with one of your panel firms on such an exercise. Either way, expect large volumes of work and remember that many hands can make for light work.
- Quarantine the vulnerable to protect critical services needed for recovery. A number of our clients have taken the opportunity to rapidly create a dedicated “pandemic panel” of external providers.
In doing so, they keep business-as-usual commercial work or disputes isolated to their existing general panel. This then allows them to appoint specialist firms by practice area for dedicated COVID-19 issues, or to experiment with smaller mid-tier firms that were not necessarily considered as possible panel firms under normal circumstances.
- Finally, and most importantly, be human and promote empathy. The expertise of the legal team will not only be sought by management. Like an off-duty doctor at a barbeque, your team will be faced with a stream of personal legal questions from employees who are desperately seeking advice, clarity, and comfort.
Rather than dismissing these questions, think about the services you are providing and how they can be altered to support those around you. Consider working with your Human Resources team or panel firms to create a hotline or personal legal support mechanism that your employees can leverage.
Your team of lawyers may wish to spend time contributing to this service, building a sense of community across the company, and demonstrating their value in different ways. People care, so let’s care for them in turn and empower them to help their community.
The COVID-19 recovery period will be long. We must all be prepared for a market dictated by commercial disputes and data privacy timebombs. In the interim however, learning from others, taking small calm steps towards transformation (rather than rushing in), and remaining empathetic and human, will hopefully help us all through a difficult and moving period in history together.
About Justin North
Justin North is the Founder of Janders Dean. With two decades of experience advising in the international legal industry, he specialises in working with global law firms and in-house legal teams on transformation projects aimed at improving firm productivity, profitability, and customer experiences.
Justin is an advisory panel member of the Law Society’s 2050 Future Worlds initiative, a mentor with the Law Without Walls and Legal Forecast initiatives, and founder of the APAC Legal Innovation Index, the #LawIsBeautiful movement, and the annual Janders Dean Legal Horizons Conferences held in Sydney, London and New York.
Outside of Law Law Land, Justin is a board member of charitable platform Maanch, and splits his time between the United Kingdom and Australia.
About Janders Dean
Janders Dean is an independent consultancy founded in 2007. Core areas of expertise include strategic analysis services for leading global and domestic professional service firms and corporate legal functions. Clients include a number of leading professional service firms in the United Kingdom, the United States, Africa, South America, Australia, India and the wider Asia Pacific region - in addition to some of the world’s large international corporations.
All information on this site is of a general nature only and is not intended to be relied upon as, nor to be a substitute for, specific legal professional advice. No responsibility for the loss occasioned to any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material published can be accepted.