The coronavirus has the world on high alert: Headlines are rife with event cancellations, school closings and quarantines. Some corporations have shuttered offices, among them KKR & Co. in London; Vodafone in Sydney; and Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook in Seattle.
In the face of a pandemic, closing an office is a safe, responsible tactic to thwart contagion. But what do you do when the work doesn’t stop? How do you continue functional legal operations management when no one can report to the office?
More likely than not, you’re operating without a plan. According to Deloitte's global survey report "A Crisis of Confidence," fewer than half of companies have crisis playbooks ready to roll – and unnervingly, one-third of companies don’t know whether they have such plans in place.
If you are among the 51 percent of companies that either don’t have a crisis plan or don’t know about one, you and your in-house legal team can still bridge to remote operation efficiently and effectively. This isn’t the time to start a comprehensive crisis planning exercise; it’s time for legal operations made simple. Here’s what to do now to prepare for a quick transition to a virtual Legal Department.
Conduct an inventory. Consider what your lawyers and staff need to respond to business clients. Writing for Thomson Reuters, former in-house counsel Sterling Miller provided this sample list:
- Up-to-date laptop
- Internet access
- Smartphone or land line
- Remote access to document management system and matter management for in-house
- Security log-ins and patches
- General office supplies
“Basically, work-from-home only works if the [lawyer] has access to everything he or she would need access to if they were in the office that day,” Miller writes.
Establish a hub. It’s hard enough to know who’s doing what when your Legal Department is working under one roof; it’s downright impossible if every member of your team is working from his or her home. You want to have visibility into your matters.
Set up an online portal as soon as possible. Centralize in-house information in one place using a simple matter management software or a shared spreadsheet. Pay extra mind to user access and version control.
Make contact with your clients easy. In his piece for Thomson Reuters, “Working from Home: Can It Really Work for In-House Counsel,” former GC Miller recommends setting clear rules and expectations.
“The legal department is a service organization, and you cannot provide that service if clients are unable to get in touch with lawyers quickly,” he writes.
Ensure every member of the Legal Department provides contact information on voice mail greetings and automated out-of-office email replies. Lawyers and staff should continue to work regular business hours and stay connected to the office – by phone, email and other collaboration tools – as they would at their desks.
Examine your Legal Intake & Triage process to ensure you are efficiently receiving, sorting and addressing matters. For clients, making a legal request is the first point of contact, needs to be easily accessible and intuitive.
Set up a streamlined and consistent workflow by using an intake technology platform or creating standardized legal instruction forms. Combined with smart queue management for these requests to manage expectations from the beginning, this will provide a better remote user experience for both business clients and your in-house legal team.
Plan your team communications. You will need to establish a rhythm of frequent communication; to start, plan to touch base once a day. Think this through now, and identify a time that works across time zones and working hours.
Communication is crucial in a work-from-home scenario for several reasons, Miller notes. It maintains a collaborative atmosphere; it informs you of workflow and deadlines; and it engenders trust.
“If you know and understand what the lawyers are working on, then your ability to trust that they are doing what they need to do goes up dramatically,” Miller writes. “Further, ensure [they] know they can and should call you as needed … It should not feel any different for them in terms of access to you.”
Once you have outlined communications for your Legal Department, consider your other stakeholders. How can you stay in contact with the C-suite, with your business clients, with your external resources? If you are setting up remote systems quickly, no need to dally on calendar calculus; simply circulate your alternative contact information early and often.
Make use of project management tools like a kanban board and set a cadence of sending regular reports to stakeholders to visualize and maximize workflow.
Embrace flexibility and grace. This arrangement isn’t forever. You and your Legal Department will learn along the way. If you can remain committed to delivering excellent legal service, but stay flexible in the manner with which that’s done, chances are your team will rise to the occasion – and come back with new ideas and innovations you can put in place in non-crisis times.
Join Xakia's CEO Jodie Baker together with Beau Sylvester, Head of Legal Operations, Asurion and Chuck Watts, City Attorney, City of Greensboro, North Carolina, as they share their journey to move rapidly from office-centric to remote working teams over the past two weeks.