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What law firms and in-house legal are doing to combat the threat of coronavirus

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is drastically changing how we live, work and even play. For law firms and in-house legal practitioners, that means balancing the concerns of your clients with safeguarding your own staff.  In some ways, small firms have an advantage over their larger counterparts. Moving to remote or online work is simpler with fewer moving parts to accommodate. On the other hand, it can be challenging to meet the increased needs of your clients at this anxious time. For in-house legal services, the size of the challenge becomes one of risk management for their organisation. But even those with strong governance and business continuity plans in place are struggling to manage many of the unprecedented issues they’re facing today. 

 

At the time of publication, a third of the world’s population is under lockdown. That’s causing demand for oil and gas to plummet, plus logistical nightmares for companies who rely on FIFO workers, as so many in energy and resources do. China’s early shutdown has seen construction crash. The flow-on effect is that China now has more steel in stock than it can use, reducing demand for steel feedstocks and possibly also inputs like nickel, alumina and bauxite.

On top of these industry-specific concerns come the usual worries. How do we protect our business in challenging times? How can I ensure that my staff stay employed? What are my industrial obligations?

To meet the challenge of the times, take a leaf out of other organisation’s books.

Divide and conquer

To reduce risks, some companies have divided operating groups into teams. This allows them to have different teams attending the workplace on alternate days or weeks, some with separate entry and exit points, toilets and break rooms. This enables them to quarantine one part of a team from the other and to allow isolation. It also ensures there is focused decontamination in the event a member of a team tests positive for COVID-19. 

This approach has allowed some companies to avoid the closure of their entire operations or buildings while still protecting staff from cross-contamination and enabling rapid cleaning of affected areas.

Practice proactive outreach

Sydney firm Bartier Perry was better prepared than most to face the crisis, with a pandemic response already in place. That’s freed them up to focus on their clients. Their webpage is full of helpful information, and each lawyer is reaching out to clients to talk to them about how to prepare and protect themselves.

Whether your client is an internal business function or an external client, that proactive approach is crucial for good client success. Many clients may not yet realise that they have a problem, may not be focusing on the right things or may be scrambling to find an appropriate response. Reaching out now can help them put a robust prevention plan in place so that if they do get hit with a supply chain problem or plummeting demand they know how to respond.

For in-house legal in particular this response package from Gadens may be particularly helpful in helping to identify and manage the plethora of issues that are evolving each day.

Adopt digital communication

At AMPLA, we’ve quickly adopted digital forms of communication to assist our members. Our support includes running virtual webinars on how to deal with the pandemic to putting in place plans to host online learning and development programs over the coming weeks to continue to keep businesses informed and focused on all the issues at hand.

While not the same as shaking someone’s hand, today’s digital tools still allow people to see each other and there’s nothing as powerful as face-to-face communication to build and protect a trusting relationship. That’s why Herbert Smith Freehills have moved to client meetings via “phone, Skype or webinar”. Many corporations have already adopted this approach to managing meetings and keeping the lines of communication open.

In fact, this may be an opportunity for law firms to pivot to meet long-standing client desires. A 2018 survey found that 34% of law firm clients would prefer firms to offer video conferencing and instant messaging. Firms have been slow to respond until now, but should certainly consider adopting these technologies in the long as well as short term.

Make the pandemic the focus

It’s all anyone is thinking about at the moment. BakerHostetler and Alston & Bird, in the US, have both developed coronavirus task forces comprised of lawyers from multiple practice areas. That way they can focus on the immediate issue and any broader ramifications at the same time. Most businesses have also created their own internal teams to manage each aspect of the crisis, and in-house legal is integral to those teams in ensuring the business remains protected. 

With things changing all the time, legal providers who can adapt fast will be in a much stronger position once the pandemic is over.

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Melbourne, 3000, Victoria
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