How The General Counsel Role is Changing While Working Remotely
As economies begin to reopen amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, many corporate legal departments need to decide whether or not remote working can continue as a viable and effective workplace option. And along with this decision comes the need to address the changing role of general counsels (GCs) and legal teams.
For many, the idea of transitioning to remote working is not unusual. Many corporate legal departments already have attorneys working from home (WFH) or in remote locations. However, the general counsel role may change as corporate legal departments make the transition from having a few remote workers to having an entirely remote legal department.
CHALLENGES OF WORKING REMOTELY
Transitioning to remote working becomes easier since the legal department’s job entails reviewing and advising on contracts that can be done from anywhere. However, many challenges still exist.
Deutsche Bank estimated that the cost of properly equipping a single remote employee is as much as $12,600. To be most effective, a lawyer working remotely needs a dedicated and private workspace, and technology to ensure client confidentiality and document security.
GCs with excess work must determine what work needs to be prioritized and what can be set aside.
Other challenges include staying productive – and ensuring employee productivity – with all of the distractions that are ever-present in the WFH environment. This includes fostering collaboration and a sense of connectedness, and encouraging self-care and mental and physical well-being, as teams are dispersed and individual members are isolated.
Because of the need for crisis management in the face of the coronavirus, some corporate legal departments are struggling with an increased volume of work. This, as departments are dealing with their own reduction in legal staffing due to illness, corporate layoffs, or furloughs. Others, meanwhile, have found themselves in the opposite situation: they do not have enough work to do, as non-essential work slows or even stops altogether.
In both cases, the less pressing duties of legal are being pushed aside to focus on COVID-related issues. Accordingly, GCs have to stay up to speed on the latest developments and determine their overall impact on the business. They can then help senior managers, executives, and the BOD to respond appropriately. This is while continuing to prioritize the normal demands of the legal department.
HOW TO CHANGE AND ADAPT TO THE GENERAL COUNSEL ROLE
Being adaptable and agile are crucial to handling the transition to remote working.
GCs who find themselves having too much to do must determine what work needs to be done straight away and what can be set aside. Illness or downsizing can drastically affect these priorities. A GC must also identify files and projects that are essential in case resources become limited. This ensures that there are backups for all major files. And they must review succession plans so that there is no downtime or break in the change of command.
GCs who find themselves facing a reduction in workload can use this opportunity to focus on long-term projects. These include innovating legal operations, conducting training, encouraging ongoing online legal education, and converting documents to digital formats.
Whatever boat you may find yourself in, the key to long-term success is emphasizing and encouraging collaboration as much as possible. One example is fostering regular communication with your team and business partners. Setting clear expectations, and establishing guidelines and accountability will help get everyone on the same page.
THE ROLE OF A GENERAL COUNSEL NEEDS PROPER TOOLS
Critical to success is having the right tools for regular communication and collaboration. And, ensuring that employees know how to properly and effectively use them. Collaboration tools and proper training empower employees and create a sense of buy-in, which can be challenging when working completely solo.
Keeping connected and maintaining morale in a purely virtual work environment is also extremely challenging. But it is equally critical to making the transition to WFH more effective.
Whether or not your organization previously emphasized physical and mental well-being, the need is more important than ever. Employees working from home are isolated from the social aspects of the office. And they must deal with a host of other issues and distractions associated with remote working. As such, GCs should encourage remote workers to maintain a predictable schedule and routine as much as possible.
Many studies show that employees are more productive working from home. This can also lead to overworking, when employees do not make a clear distinction between ‘work time’ and ‘home time.’ Encourage employees to take regular breaks, and get outside for short walks or daily exercise.
THE PATH FORWARD
As lawyers learn how to adapt to the ‘new normal,’ it is important to remember that the current situation will not last forever. Still, the crisis should not be viewed as something that merely needs to be weathered. See it as a time to invest in the future of your organization, as well as prepare for future crises. This will all help you to adapt and change whenever necessary.
Now, stay crisis-ready by reading helpful tips from our whitepaper, Contract Management Crisis Preparedness for GCs. It could pay dividends for your legal team in the long run.
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