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With COVID-19 cases on the rise again and winter firmly on the way, how can we protect our organisations? What should we be considering in order to prepare our legal team, employees, supply chain, contracts and customers?
From a recent LexisNexis study we found that 60% of in-house counsel state that remote working makes it more challenging to:
Building further on these ideas, LexisNexis recently chaired an in-house forum at the recent event – The Law Society Scotland’s ‘In-house Virtual Legal Festival 2020’ conference, which covered the topic Covid-19 – response and recovery.
Melissa Moore, Commercial Property Solicitor at LexisNexis UK chaired the discussion. Among the other experts who featured on the panel were:
Below, we have listed some key quotes and insights that were surfaced during the session.
The panel discussed that fact that legal ops executives tend to be more operations-focussed – looking at how the team are doing things, how well the format and delivery is working, is this the best way and how can we find efficiencies in that process? Legal ops also have a strong appreciation of how technology solutions can be deployed, and how they can create efficiencies when used in the right way, whilst having a clear view of the outcome – making sure that what the team is doing is being optimised and serving the purpose and recognising what legal is doing, in the lens of the rest of the organisation.
One panel member said: “I tend to think that Legal is sometimes considered as a back-office department, the department that says ‘no’, they are a cost centre, focussed on risk mitigation but not enabling the business.
This is a concept that can really be flipped and legal can really be viewed as a department that is transformational in driving the way that a company is operating.
Play to the strengths of what a legal ops professional can bring, rather than the legal expertise that a General Counsel will bring.”
During the discussion, it was mentioned that legal ops and legal counsel are very different roles, and it is good to acknowledge that – and the strengths that both can bring.
From the lawyer’s point of view, it is somewhat important to consider the slight limitations of your skills. You are a lawyer for a reason, and one of those reasons may be that you have a certain skillset which might not lend itself to understanding the technology aspect in great detail. In business, not being able to see something from an operational point-of-view and from the angle of being able to improve processes, could be what limits your insight. The group encouraged the ability of the lawyer to recognise those limitations and understand that there are people who can add those skills to the scenario.
The point was also raised that, these days, businesses are expecting so much more from their legal teams and that the fact that you’re there to advise and help the business mitigate risk can be somewhat overshadowed by the unfortunate perception of the department as a ‘cost centre’. There was a firm belief, however, that:
“Legal ops can really help change that perception and really show the value, through tools whereby you can track how you are responding to legal matters, tracking whether you’re meeting SLAs – ways in which you can actually, tangibly measure the performance of the legal team and then demonstrate that value to the business is invaluable.”
Other participants stated that this wasn’t necessarily the case – that there wasn’t a perception of the legal team being a ‘cost centre’ without value, but that everyone understood the value that legal provides. However, it was suggested that in fact, the hardest part of proving the value was the absence of good operational metrics demonstrating how workload fluctuates and what the demand is on lawyers and the legal team.
One forum member said that it was difficult to request budget for headcount growth without answers to the basic operational questions they might get asked, for example, how the team’s time is allocated, and which tasks take up the majority of the team’s time. This would inform conversations around whether the team needed to hire a different type of lawyer, such as someone who specialises in regulation, if there were an influx of regulatory matters being addressed.
The following points were given overall to support the need for data, visibility and trend analysis:
“I think it would drive better decision-making and demonstrate to the wider business all the areas and facets that we touch – I think sometimes there is a very narrow view of what we do.”
Another panel member commented that being immersed in the deals day-to-day, means that the legal team can struggle to find time to consider the bigger picture, to put processes in place to make time savings and efficiencies and actively encourage the business to do more.
“We all find ourselves doing things that are more commodity-based work that could actually be done by the business. Certainly, one of the things we find is that we spoil our internal clients a little bit too much!”
Pandemic management strategy
Pandemic risk management guide
Pandemic management—contract review checklist.
Pandemic action plan
Business continuity plan—BCP
Coronavirus (COVID-19) workplace outbreak management plan—offices
Coronavirus (COVID-19)—safe working in an office environment—checklist
Health and safety
Consider reviewing your policies on key affected health and safety topics, such as general workplace health and safety, coronavirus workplace safety and lone working. See Precedents:
Policy—health and safety
Policy—Coronavirus (COVID-19) workplace safety
Coronavirus (COVID-19) safety—policy schedule—offices and contact centres
Assuming your organisation still has a number of staff working from home, now is a good time to review your policies and procedures around home working, including workstation assessments and display screen equipment. See Precedents:
Emergency homeworking risk evaluation
Emergency homeworking questionnaire for staff
Workstation health and safety checklist for staff
Information security and confidentiality
Office closures and social distancing required during the pandemic have created increased risks around information security and confidentiality. Many workers have found themselves working from home in less than ideal circumstances, often on personal, rather than company-issued equipment, and often in a home that is shared with others working for different organisations, potentially competitors. At the same time, cyber criminals have leveraged the uncertainty of the situation to their own ends.
Practice Note: Pandemic management—information and cybersecurity—challenges and practical responses sets out key information and cybersecurity risks arising through the difficult business conditions and challenging environment common in a pandemic, and suggests practical steps you can take to mitigate them.
For staff who are solicitors, Practice Note: Coronavirus (COVID-19)—professional conduct for in-house lawyers reflects advice issued by the SRA and Law Society on the impact of the coronavirus on a range of commercial and professional conduct issues that might be relevant to in-house lawyers, including confidentiality.
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Amy is an established writer and researcher, having contributed to publications, such as The Law Society, LPM, City A.M. and Financial IT. Her role at LexisNexis UK involved leading content and thought leadership, as well as writing research reports, including "The Bellwether Report 2020, Covid-19: The next chapter" and "Are medium-sized firms the change-makers in legal?"
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