By Annalise Haigh

In the midst of a crisis, nothing stands out more than strong, smart and agile leadership.  So, although the Coronavirus is impacting all of us in Asia and the rest of the world, we can also take this opportunity to embrace and drive the change – look at your legal operating model and avoid the doom loop.  Yes, you’re being asked to reduce costs to support the business through these very challenging times, but it’s also times like these that can completely change the way you do things… for the better.  In the words of Tay Tay, it’s your legal department’s time to  “shake it off”.

The Coronavirus “Crisis cycle”

The “crisis cycle” represents the impacts and actions that occur during a crisis and their follow-on effects. Although distressing at times, these actions can also create opportunities for the better.  The Coronavirus crisis cycle is fairly similar to a financial downturn, except for the WFH component, which adds an extra layer of complexity/opportunity to your business.  Below is an overview of some of the impacts of the Coronavirus on your business practices and how you can optimise these events for long term success.

  1. Budget cuts = more for less

The market was already aware that a downturn was on the horizon, but now we can say with 100% certainty that the recession has begun.  Budget cuts are being requested.  For a legal department, the supply chain review is an important process.  It’s something that should be done yearly, but it can be pushed down the list depending on priorities.  When budgets are being cut – it’s the optimal time to do a review – internal, external, support resources/tech.  One of the biggest spends for legal is external – does your supply chain strategically optimise alternative legal service providers, law firms and LegalTech?  If it does not, then you should – ALSPs costs can be up to 50% less than those of most traditional law firms.  What is your spend on legal operations – internal and external?  Even the most basic internal process review can see efficiency increases of up 15% – 30%.

  1. Pivot strategic goals

If you’re changing your budget, then no doubt you’ll also need to review your strategic goals for the year.  The budget and strategic goals’ review go hand-in-hand.  It is counter-intuitive to many to take on new projects in a downturn, but the review of the supply chain (assuming the bulk of it goes to external spend), may end up giving you quite a bit of ‘wiggle room’ to try things you couldn’t justify before because it wasn’t necessarily broken.  Now is the time to implement more efficient processes, try new suppliers which are not only cost effective, but also often strategically more aligned to your business.

  1. Work from Home or “WFH”

WFH seems to be the acronym on everyone’s lips.  There is a general fear that WFH equals reduction on productivity.  This is not necessarily the case.  In fact, if you get your practices right it’s more likely to lead to an increase in productivity.  Big consulting firms have been utilising WFH successfully for years, and so have many other industries.   WFH, done well, not only increases productivity but it also reduces per person costs on rent.  A 2-year Stanford University study confirmed this and there are many more studies with the same results.  The key to successful WFH is clear deliverables, timeframes, virtual team catch ups and trust!

  1. Capacity stuck

You’re not only dealing with budget cuts, you’re also on a headcount freeze. Employees are taking unpaid leave packages, perhaps even layoffs, but you’re still being asked to continue BAU and implement your projects/strategies.  The way we work is changing, as is the way we get work done.  In your supplier change and strategy review you might have discovered better strategic alignment for certain projects – managed services could be a great solution.

  1. Cut the fat

Back to legal operations, a value review of your processes is essential when you’re streamlining.  It could be crucial to preventing your layoffs, bringing some of your external work in-house.  However, unless you do the reviews, you won’t know where you have room to cut.  It could be as simple as identifying repetitive/low value work and automated processes through tools such as SharePoint.  Or it could be the adoption of playbooks or outsourcing to a cost-effective third-party provider. Or any combination of these – there’s no one size fits all approach. Take the time to do the reviews to ensure that you can capitalise on the improvements and greater efficiency – it’s worth it.

  1. Business as usual (BAU!)

And to finish the cycle, these crisis moments, if optimised even to the slightest extent, will become part of your BAU, because you’ll have learned how to run your business better.  You’ll ultimately be a be a higher functioning legal team.  When we can see a light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll be well on your way to be the support that the business needs to combat the impacts of the crisis cycle.

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