By Rob Shakespeare
As we all try to come to terms with the ongoing human tragedy and economic crisis that is unfolding around us, one thing most people might agree on right now is that Covid-19 is going to force change upon all of us, acting as a catalyst for adjustments to our personal and professional lives.
At KorumLegal we’ve always been firm believers that the availability of technology will be one of the key agents for change in the legal industry. So, it is perhaps ironic that a creation of the natural world could turn out to be the most effective agent in propelling this change. Yet the two do go hand in hand, and we are already seeing around the world evidence of how communications technology is enabling people to maintain the social and professional interactions that are so crucial to us – including Slack, Zoom, Webex, Teams and Houseparty. This digital transformation, already underway but now accelerating as an indirect result of Covid-19, seems more likely than not to maintain this momentum.
Whilst it is hard to look beyond the here and now, we should all remain confident that our species is an inherently resilient one; we have proven that time and time again in the face of human, natural and economic adversity. People and businesses do bounce back; and those that do so the most successfully are the ones that evolve, seek out opportunities and think creatively.
Right now, with very few exceptions, many businesses and the people working in them are in full crisis management mode. Most are dealing with not only disruption to their underlying business models but also disruption to the working patterns and the productivity of their people. Behaviour and activity is predominantly reactive rather than proactive, and long-term planning is therefore quite understandably not a priority right now.
However, we know that the free markets in which we operate are unforgiving of poor business models and inefficiencies. The businesses that rebound the strongest from the present turbulence, will probably be those with leaders and managers that have managed to keep an eye on the future and critically evaluated their business and deployment of its assets. Winners will emerge and it will be those business whose managers and leaders were capable of seeing the current tumult as an opportunity amidst the challenge. Those with a dynamic, creative and growth mindset are likely to do better on the upside than those with a static and fixed one.
From the perspective of the leaders of legal teams and its lawyers, what might this mean and what kind of opportunities should we/you be looking for?
Short term actions
Clearly, in the short term, the focus is on the present, and rightly so. There are a lot of business managers looking to their legal teams for guidance at this moment in time. So, for many lawyers, the priority will be getting a good handle on the business-critical issues and ensuring that legal plays a central role in the crisis management strategy. That might involve redirecting resources to reviewing material contracts, whether understanding force majeure, damages and termination or suspension mechanics or playing out counterparty financial risk scenarios. Lawyers will be tasked with quickly providing decision makers with quality risk data relating to the business’s underlying contractual rights and obligations. Resources may be stretched and in need of reallocation, so looking at how to unlock the time of more senior lawyers in the team allowing them to focus on strategic work streams and those that need to be prioritized above all else. In those situations, the resources available to continue with the day to day, internal-facing work such as volume contract review may necessitate additional, temporary support. Without many other levers that can be pulled in terms of resources in the short term, the focus should be on getting processes right.
For any legal teams that are experience a bit of a slowdown over the coming months, it might be an opportunity to do some ‘housekeeping’ and catch up on matters previously sidelined. This could involve working on internal policies and procedures, or document templates and standard forms, reviewing and improving them or more administrative functions, such as building online data rooms, workflow management tools or moving data onto contract management platforms in anticipation of future event driven activity such as fundraises or M&A activity.
Long term opportunities
Looking beyond the short term, the truly opportunistic legal teams will be looking for creative ways in which they can improve efficiency and delivery so as to come out of the present situation in a stronger position than they entered it. In most cases, this will involve making changes to their existing models; some of those may be forced by budgetary constraints, but some will be driven by forward-looking legal managers, open to exploring new ways of working and servicing their internal clients.
Going back to technology, if the move towards greater remote working is the prompt for many teams to ensure that their communication tools are fit for purpose, consider: (i) whether the business has existing tools that can be used more widely or optimized (in our experience it is so often the case that tech solutions are under utilised due to a limited understanding of their potential use cases); or (ii) whether there are other tech solutions available that can benefit your legal team. These could include products such as contract management platforms or document creation and review tools. Understandably, an investment in technology might for many be unrealistic at the present time but if that is the case, it could still be a good time to investigate some of the available products in the market and to start building the internal investment case by demonstrating how they will be able to drive efficiencies and cost savings over the medium to long term.
Another likely consequence for legal teams will be continued downward pressure on costs, and in the short term at least, measures such as head count freezes and even staffing reductions will inevitably be amongst the responses that many businesses take. Anticipating this, legal team managers could be reviewing both internal and external resources in light of such measures. Internally, look at the underlying processes, work methods and prioritization models to weed out obvious inefficiencies and free up lawyers’ time – whilst no lawyer enjoys time recording, maintaining some record of how time is spent over a representative period, can be an effective way of gathering informative data. Externally, look at existing service providers and their costs and consider alternative options such as legal consultants or remote lawyers, that can be switched on or off at short notice giving significant control and flexibility on costs. Businesses have more options than ever before when it comes to servicing legal needs and should ensure they familiarise themselves with them.
The world is experiencing an event that does feel unprecedented, and most of us have more questions than answers, but we should remain positive. We will emerge from the current situation, and there will be transformative opportunities for many businesses and the legal teams within them. With that in mind, even amongst the current turmoil, we should all try to look forward and start to put plans in place to be well positioned as we move into a recovery phase and beyond.