How have in-house counsel been coping with the altered reality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic? The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant global disruptions which have had a severe impact on all businesses worldwide. The pandemic has been challenging for in-house lawyers who have been on their toes trying to keep things together by preparing and guiding their organisations to take proactive measures to help contain the virus and at the same time ensuring business continuity. Below are a few tips of how in-house lawyers should be responding to the crisis and what they can do to prepare their organisations post Covid-19.
The need to cut costs of hiring external counsel and the increasing need to meet business demands has caused a significant increase in-house departments over the past few years. In-house lawyers (General Counsels) perform a variety of overlapping functions, ranging from contract negotiator, compliance advisor, business strategist and litigator which can often get overwhelming. In today’s complex and competitive marketplace, successful General Counsels need to excel across a range of key, identifiable areas (spelled out below) and demonstrate their ability to be a key asset to their companies;
Be acquainted with your role.
Today’s General Counsel takes on new meaning, in today’s world a General Counsel is expected to be a business partner with not only the CEO, but with the rest of the senior team, the board of directors and leaders of major functions and operations throughout the business. Unlike a typical traditional lawyer, today’s General Counsel is a well-rounded business person with technical expertise in law. He or she is an enabler of business outcomes and must align the function’s strategy with that of the company. General Counsel of today is expected to offer sophisticated, nuanced and practical advice to senior management cutting across law and business.
It is also very important for in-house counsel to understand his or her basic responsibilities and the expectations of the company. Further, a General Counsel must learn about the history and development of the company and make an effort to understand its corporate culture. This is critical to ensuring that in-house counsel provide advice that is pragmatic, effective, and implemented by the client. It is also fairly important for the General Counsel to spend a lot of time understanding the company functions, its industry and business and how the company fits strategically within its market situation. This is key as it enables the in-house attorney to advise the company from a business perspective and take a more active role within the management team.
The pandemic has also impacted the General Counsel’s role. General Counsel is required to go an extra mile and handle all sorts of crisis scenarios with flexibility, while also planning for the future. They also need to consider more medium to long-term plans, such as how to manage costs or your workforce’s capabilities and, eventually, how to manage the upturn by changing your workforce and introducing new operating models.
Get help from the Outside.
Despite a preference to keep work in-house, most in-house legal departments are unable to handle all of their company’s legal work without outsourcing, in some form, with external counsel.
According to the 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Department In-Sourcing and Efficiency Report. two-thirds (almost 60 percent) of legal departments reported outsourcing 25 percent or less of their legal work to law firms. Just over a quarter (27 percent) indicated they have increased their reliance on outside counsel over the past two years, compared with 24 percent of respondents in the earlier survey. This increase has been driven by a rise in overall legal work (72 percent) and company growth (55 percent). Complexity of subject matter or issue is one of the main reasons in-house counsel rely on the deep expertise of law firms.
The COVID pandemic has significantly strained the budgets of most companies as such in-house teams must ensure that they try to minimize their costs whilst relieving work pressure on their teams. In-house counsel can minimize the cost of outside counsel retention, through a variety of approaches, such as engaging NewLaw firms instead of traditional big law firms which use the traditional billable hour’s model. Unlike the traditional law firms, NewLaw firms move away from billable hours and focus on alternative billing arrangements that are billing on a project basis or a fixed fee. This model is not only cheaper but is more flexible and provides the in-house departments with more efficient services.
In house counsel must ensure that they are able to effectively supervise outside counsel and implement strategies to do the same such as instituting regular early case assessments and appointing business managers to help with outside counsel management procedures.
Don’t get left behind; Digitalize.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, technology has become a significant driver of change. In the legal fraternity law firms are faced with increased pressure from businesses to do more with less. It is thus important for General Counsel to explore new ways of digitizing manual processes and ensure that the technology utilized by the legal department is up-to-date. General Counsel should implement more advanced and non-essential technologies. For instance, there are many technology tools provided by various LegalTech companies which are powered by artificial intelligence that can handle some of the routine and repetitive work that has been traditionally performed by lawyers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on many in-house legal departments, with most house counsel being busier than ever addressing a wide range of legal issues that have arisen due to the COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed why technology is key. It plays a more prominent role in legal practice as it enables lawyers to work from home and to continue to serve their business clients.
Effectively manage diverse relationships.
It is essential for in-house teams to be able to effectively manage the diverse relationships with external and internal constituencies’ at all organizational levels. General Counsels must be open to differences in order for them to relate well to diverse personalities. In doing so, General Counsel must be able to delegate work by assigning the right tasks to the right personnel. This allows them to manage their own time while managing the performance and workload of the team. Due to the effects of the pandemic, in-house counsels need to work with Human Resources teams to develop necessary methods and practices to reduce the overall risk. These might include travel disclosures, reducing unnecessary travel, employee vaccination, flexible working schedules and training on cleanliness and hygiene standards.
A great part of effectively managing relationships is good communication skills. Appropriate management of remote teams in lockdown is essential to maintain cohesion and some semblance of a regular working day. General Counsel must establish daily communication with their remote employees and teams to ensure that there is a free flow of communication and that their concerns and questions are heard from employees. In-house teams must also provide several different communication technology options, such as the use of software for video meetings and updates should be considered., internal social platforms and digital board meetings and the use electronic signatures to approve key transactions and documents
Exhibit servant leadership.
Investopedia defines servant leadership as a philosophy in which an individual interacts with others either in a management or fellow employee capacity with the aim of achieving authority rather than power. The servant leader’s main aim is to serve people rather than dictate to people what to do. This type of leadership has application to both the formal law department leaders, as well as to the lawyers without formal leadership roles within the departments. The ultimate objective for servant leadership for General Counsel is the recognition of and the satisfaction of internal client legal service’s needs. When a General Counsel leads by serving the company, team members, clients as well as the board of directors he can effectively perform his/ her duties. With all of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it’s important to serve the client with empathy and compassion. When communicating with clients about the business’s actions during the pandemic, it’s important to practice empathy and compassion and express the company’s collective support to the clients base. The General Counsel must use a tone that is relatable.
Centurion Plus and legal teams.
Centurion Plus is a NewLaw model that embraces innovative and client-focused methods of delivering legal advice in accordance to the client’s needs. This platform is an extension of Centurion Law Group which grew out of the demand for specialized legal expertise across the continent. Clients often require project-based lawyers who specialize in high-demand areas of expertise, such as mergers and acquisitions, contract negotiation, litigation, labour, and compliance. While many companies typically employ in-house counsel, they often need extra help during peak workload periods and for projects requiring specialized expertise they lack internally. This is where Centurion Plus is a suitable alternative solution.
Further, the Centurion Plus model introduces clients to an agile and customized legal and advisory service offering which brings together a team of experienced lawyers for any deal on project basis. Like any New Law Model, Centurion Plus allows you to minimize your legal costs as you are not paying for overhead, health benefits, or support for employees that you do not need. You are paying only for your attorneys’ actual services. Not only that, you get better for less as your legal team is not under pressure to meet a quota of billable hours. With Centurion Plus, you gain efficiency as your team’s sole responsibility will be the work you assign them, which allows them to work with minimal interruptions and finish projects more quickly. You will also retain control over your projects due to the flexibility of the model.
Because Centurion Plus is not like a traditional law firm which primarily focuses on purely legal matters, it has business advisors that can offer in-house teams advice concerning the role and responsibilities of in-house lawyers pre and post the COVID pandemic and how they can effectively manage teams as well as issues concerning digitalization of legal processes.
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