5 ‘What-ifs’ About Legal Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic is a time of hypotheses and uncertainty. While some companies do have risk management policies, many organizations have failed to effectively address challenges caused by the current crisis. For instance, 45 percent of British companies reported a lower turnover than they had expected. Massive employee layoffs are also becoming rather common. Since the ongoing situation is completely unprecedented, it has stirred frustration and a bit of panic across the business world.

What does this mean for legal teams? The law industry heavily depends on face-to-face communication. Social distancing and travel restrictions have affected the entire paradigm of routine legal work. Naturally, lawyers are concerned whether legal operations will continue as normal or if they will come to a halt soon. Also, most legal professionals have been forced to work remotely during the quarantine. So, the crucial question is how to implement digital tools into the traditional workflows of legal teams.

In this blog post, we’ve gathered five main ‘what-ifs’ most legal managers and general counsels are pondering today. Take a look at them to understand how to effectively deal with changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most legal operations have tight deadlines and must be completed without compromises on accuracy or quality. That’s why legal processes are generally fine-tuned and rigid. To avoid risks, law teams are reluctant to update their routine workflows unless it’s absolutely necessary. The COVID-19 crisis is a perfect example of when legal departments are forced to implement changes despite discomfort. Yet, there is also a silver lining.

The COVID-19 crisis is a perfect example of when legal departments are forced to implement changes despite discomfort.

It’s much easier and faster to adopt the entire new practice at once, rather than taking one step at a time. Also, during quarantine, all team members are interested in ensuring their remote work is effective, so they are less likely to resist the improvements and alterations.

To carry on with day-to-day tasks, legal professionals must be equipped with all the necessary tools. For several years, our team has been working with organizations that have low process agility. This experience allowed us to collect several useful tips on adopting legal technology for legal managers. So, to make the technology adoption process as smooth as possible, you need to:

  • keep your team on the same page by streamlining your workflow processes with productivity and communication tools
  • implement collaboration tools to ensure your team members neither work in isolation nor are vitally dependent on one another
  • set up secure channels of communication with clients and counterparties
  • get rid of routine so your team members can focus on complex tasks and put the required amount of effort into completing them

To achieve legal process optimization, you can use a contract management or document drafting solution like AXDRAFT. This service will help your team create legal documents 70% faster and avoid mistakes that often take up to 40% of their time. In addition, the document automation tool will allow you to reduce in-house legal costs, which is a significant benefit given the potential economic crisis.

2. What if my team is not qualified to operate in the digital landscape?

Odds are your legal team lacks some of the necessary skills to accept and implement all changes right away. But it doesn’t mean they are unable to learn them. So if you feel your team needs more training, you should initiate an educational process. Also, place extra attention on project management. It’s best to use a proven methodology that can cater to the needs of virtually any department or team.

Demystify the process of change for your team members.

Here are a few recommendations for legal managers and general counsels that focus on how to launch the change process and make it comfortable for all employees:

  • Make sure that you are aware of any pressing issues in your team’s daily workflows.
  • Demystify the process of change for team members. For example, you may arrange a video call and explain why changes are required and what impact they’ll have on routine processes. The more they know, the less they’ll fear.
  • Review existing job responsibilities for every employee and compare them with the list of new tasks. If necessary, set up individual video meetings or trainings.
  • Identify areas for automation and find the necessary tools. For example, you may use AXDRAFT for effective document generation.
  • Encourage self-education across the team. To develop professionally, team members should have enough time and resources for acquiring new skills.

In practice, business process optimization isn’t as painful as it may seem, so do not be shaken. After all, your team will only need to adjust to new digitalized processes once, but the benefits will last for a long time.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the level of psychological tension is constantly growing. People are exposed to an enormous amount of news, both depressing and optimistic, and it can be really difficult to maintain informational hygiene. In this context, legal professionals are in the same boat as everyone else. So, it would be foolish to ignore the physiological side when implementing legal technology in day-to-day operations or when evaluating employee performance.

Personal support is vital for cultivating a sense of security during the crisis.

As a team leader, you can still take steps to ensure everyone feels safe and connected, despite the self-isolation. For instance, to increase the team’s morale, you can:

  • Discourage team members from digesting unverified information. If someone spreads fake news, try to refute it with information from reliable sources.
  • Remind everyone that we are in this together. Personal support is vital for cultivating a sense of security.
  • Encourage work/life balance. Create a room for informal chats during video calls with your team. It’s also a nice idea to initiate some kind of remote team building at the end of the week (e.g. Beer Fridays).
  • Don’t forget to celebrate accomplishments. In self-isolation, it’s easy to lose a sense of purpose and meaning behind your work. Praising your team is more important now than ever.

The above measures may not eliminate all areas of stress for your employees, but they’ll help create a healthy work environment and encourage your team to successfully overcome hardships.

4. What if our confidential information is compromised in the digital space?

Data scandals get a lot of media attention, so we can’t avoid discussing the risk of leakage. Remote work wouldn’t be possible without moving the entire business to the digital space. This means that all confidential information must also be transferred to software systems so legal professionals can perform their routine tasks from home. Naturally, this raises a lot of security concerns.

While it’s true no one is immune to cyberattacks, there are preventive actions you can take to minimize the chance of someone getting unauthorized access to confidential information. In particular, to ensure data security, you should:

  • Do extensive research when choosing digital tools for your legal department. Don’t hesitate to reach out to software vendors to ask about their data storage policies.
  • Read all license agreements, data policy addendums, NDAs and GDPR documentation provided by software vendors. Don’t use a tool if its vendor doesn’t guarantee an adequate level of data protection.
  • Gather feedback about tools or their vendors from past or existing customers. Social listening often helps managers and business owners make wise decisions.
  • Find out how your legal data is encrypted. Encourage your team to create secure passwords and change them regularly, even if a system doesn’t require it. Hint: a secure password is 10+ characters long and includes both uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Carefully distribute access rights across your team. Only give access to third parties when it’s absolutely necessary and they’ve signed an NDA.
  • If you use a VPN, double-check your VPN vendor before sharing any sensitive data.
  • Always backup your sensitive data. No system is reliable enough to disregard plan B.

Besides, you must have a data breach protocol prepared beforehand, even if you think you’ll never use it. Despite all preventive measures, data breaches do happen, so having a plan in place can help you minimize the risks and get back on track much faster.

Putting it simply: it won’t. Not for all service types, at least. The demand for lawyers is actually increasing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the upward trend may seem counterintuitive, the reasons are quite logical:

  • The coronavirus pandemic forced many companies to place more effort in risk management. This new focus requires significant input from the legal teams (e.g. document drafting, assessing and minimizing regulatory risks).
  • Due to financial distress, many businesses are going through the refinancing or debt restructuring process. They need lawyers to aid with legal advice and amend existing contracts.
  • Employers are seeking advice on how not to violate labor rights when dealing with business implications caused by the crisis. Involvement from legal professionals is required if a company wants to effectively resolve all issues.
  • Dispute resolution and litigation processes are not paused. Courts are still working, so businesses must rely on lawyers to support their cases.
  • The coronavirus outbreak may qualify as a force majeure event. To understand how this affects business relations, companies need to review their contractual obligations. This task falls under the competency of legal teams.

Unfortunately, the factors above don’t ensure the legal industry will be protected from layoffs, as they are likely to occur across all business sectors. But, eventually, things will return to normal and the curve will flatten. Besides, the increased demand for digital services will likely extend potential areas of opportunities for legal services.

Bottom line

The COVID-19 health crisis has caused many changes to the routine work of law firms and legal departments. During quarantine, most lawyers are forced to work from home, leaving legal managers no other choice but to launch a digital transformation. To successfully complete this process, it’s critical to choose the right tools for the automation of legal operation. For example, AXDRAFT can help your team reduce the time spent drafting routine documents (NDAs, DPAs, SLAs, etc.).

And remember, many companies still need legal support to deal with the business implications of COVID-19. So don’t forget to remind your team just how important their mission is during these uneasy times.

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