Lessons of Covid “making for better in-house lawyers”

Hartley: The best corporate legal teams will improve through this crisis

Covid-19 has taught in-house lawyers about the importance of being trusted advisers, using technology for low-risk work, and making data-driven decisions, according to a new report.

The pandemic also highlighted the need sometimes to give ‘good enough’, rather than perfect, advice.

The report by flexible lawyering business LOD spoke to 383 legal and compliance professionals worldwide, including some LOD lawyers.

Most of all, the report concluded, the flexibility that was required during the crisis and the move away from hours recorded in the office had been “a liberating experience” for many.

Key findings included that there were opportunities for lawyers to be involved in the wider range of work, not just legal, but also act more as a trusted adviser. One third of respondents reported already feeling more like trusted adviser since the pandemic began.

This had been a trend already but had accelerated in recent months: “During the crisis, organisations have witnessed the value of calm, legal thinking and how it can help in more than just legal problems.”

It said “one of the clearest examples” of changed behaviour emerging from the responses was the delegation of “low-value, low-risk legal work to a technology or workflow solution”.

The report explained: “Without any luxury of time and whilst dealing with urgent new priorities, legal teams have been forced to create portals, playbooks, and other ‘self-service’ type tools, just so business can continue within predetermined risk parameters (while they are prioritising more urgent work).”

The report also suggested responding to the virus by increasingly using data driven decision-making, with greater “visibility” of legal work demanded during the crisis, “particularly as concerns like cost control, prioritisation and technical demands have become more pointed”.

It continued: “Legal teams need access to the right systems and processes to be able to work effectively and prove the value they add. The pandemic has accelerated this growing requirement and it’s become less and less acceptable for legal teams to work in a ‘data poor’ environment.”

Among the top tips suggested by the ‘legal leaders’ consulted by LOD was that in-house counsel should be brave: “Have the willingness to be good and not perfect. In a crisis (and beyond), you need to ensure you advice is short, timely and easy to action.”

The top practical recommendation was that in-house teams should reduce the time spent having meetings, from an average of one hour down to 50 minutes or half an hour down to 20 minutes.

Respondents were generally positive about the transition to remote working, while 83% believed many initiatives introduced in response to Covid-19 would become permanent.

The overwhelming sentiment was that losing the “dreaded commute” had been positive, although a common challenge was identified as “missing the office environment and the social aspect of work”. Top of the list was juggling childcare.

Tom Hartley, chief executive of LOD, which is owned by a private equity business, said: “Without downplaying the severity of the pandemic on our personal and professional lives, the findings of our survey confirm our belief that the best corporate legal teams will improve through this crisis.

“We must embrace some of the more sustainable and efficient work practices that were made in the crucible of coronavirus.”

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