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The Impact of COVID-19 on Corporate Legal Departments

Last week we launched a survey in partnership with ALM Intelligence to uncover how U.S. legal departments and, more importantly, individual in-house lawyers are being impacted by COVID-19. For those of you who are reading this blog as it comes out and are in house, the survey is still open and can be taken by clicking on this link.

If you respond, we will share the results so that you can benchmark your own experiences against those of your colleagues in other organizations. We will be publishing our findings in the coming weeks, and the results of the survey should inform law firm decisions on how to deliver more value and greater service as we move into this next phase of the new normal.

While the survey will help us understand how corporate legal departments are making critical decisions in the near and long term, there are several things we have already learned through recent conversations with in-house counsel. Here is some of what we have learned to date:

Now, more than ever, it is a one-size-fits-one world. For example, in talking to a half-dozen in-house counsel at just one company, we heard that while their energy-sector business has been dramatically impacted by business stoppage, the legal department is busier than ever preparing for novel legal needs. The head of litigation is focusing on shoring up relationships with outside lawyers to make sure they have the bandwidth to handle the new matters coming out of this, to learn about resources from regional firms where the company expects to have needs and to better understand firm expertise in areas (like bankruptcy) where they have never worked together. In that same company, another in-house counsel is largely unaffected by COVID-19.

Personal circumstances are also a major factor in how your clients are being impacted. The in-house counsel who is largely unaffected happens to have grown children and has worked remotely for years, so her day-to-day existence is largely unchanged. However, a colleague who has three young kids and is sharing a home office with a spouse has redefined work/life balance.

 This pandemic is only making more crucial what we have always encouraged outside counsel to do: Constantly check in with clients to ask the simple questions about their needs, now and in the future, and then act on that feedback.

Another general counsel said he is seeing two or three hours of greater efficiency from the legal department and is recommending that 75% of the workforce work remotely forever. And he’s been doing it for years, so he’s not impacted at all.

At another company, the in-house counsel left New York in March, is living in Florida and doesn’t know when she is going back and what work is going to look like. The future is completely uncertain.

What we have learned, as always, is every individual client is different, and their needs are different. This pandemic is only making more crucial what we have always encouraged outside counsel to do: Constantly check in with clients to ask the simple questions about their needs, now and in the future, and then act on that feedback.

In late March and early April, we worked with many lawyers on strategies for having important and timely client conversations.

Now, needs and circumstances are changing faster than ever. So don’t just check in with your clients once about what’s going on. Stay connected. We have found that clients are more open than ever to having conversations with their most trusted advisors, and the ones that check back often can adapt quickly, react faster and earn the greatest client loyalty.

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