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5 Steps to Strengthen Your Corporate Law Department During and After the Pandemic

Irene Liu

Companies are challenged like never before in this COVID-19 world. Companies are grappling with new challenges and uncertainties ranging from a remote workforce and potential revenue slow-down to cash flow issues and organizational restructuring. And many companies are responding to the pandemic by establishing new work norms, such as permanent virtual and work-from-home conferences as a replacement for large annual conferences.

Given the rapidly changing work environment, corporate legal departments need to prepare and adapt to this new normal. They can also use this time as an opportunity to develop their own new “normal” practices to come out stronger on the other side post-pandemic.

Here are 5 practices to help grow and strengthen your legal department and the impact on your company at large during this pandemic:

1. Increase communication

To foster a strong workplace during this crisis, legal departments need to boost their communication at all levels to help employees stay connected and engaged. Hold team meetings and one-on-one meetings with your team members at least once per week and give everyone an opportunity to speak to share their weekend or social update to foster “hallway” conversations. Continue offering team bonding activities such as optional virtual happy hours and offsites and sending team members virtual birthday cards and work anniversary cards through Powerpoint slides to show recognition and care. For larger teams, conduct anonymous team-wide surveys to obtain a pulse on the engagement and health of the team during this crisis. Such social interactions will preserve your team culture and employee engagement and will pay off when you return to the office with your team culture intact.

2. Foster work-life flexibility

Empathy, flexibility, and accommodation are so important during this time. Many are challenged by the demands of both work and home life and the lack of boundary between the two as the result of the public health crisis. Offer your team the flexibility they need to handle both work and family roles by focusing not on what time of day the work gets done but that the work gets done. Allow the employee to determine when the work is completed and encourage team members to take paid leave to give themselves mental breaks wherever possible, especially since some tend to use this time to over work from waking hours to late evenings, accelerating their burnout.

3. Stay connected

The need for physical distance—and therefore, working in the new normal—is likely to remain for a prolonged period of time. So, staying connected even virtually is ever more important. Prioritize maintaining connections to your key business partners, your legal team members, your outside counsel, and your corporate in-house counsels through virtual one-on-ones, coffees, and happy hours as they can be helpful ways to quickly obtain alignment, guidance, and discussion options on legal situations.

4. Build and track legal metrics

With an entirely remote workforce, legal departments can better demonstrate how they are directly adding value to the overall business by building and tracking legal department metrics. At the very minimum, legal departments should track and provide insights and trends to the business on metrics related to contract quantity, legal spend, and litigation—such as average cost for each case broken out by external counsel fees and settlement amount. These trends should be shared with the business on a regular cadence to showcase the value the legal department is bringing to the business even while remote.

5. Offer help and share knowledge:

During this pandemic, many in-house counsels have been thrust into becoming the company’s main expert for COVID-19 compliance. Since we’re all learning at the same time, openly share knowledge with your peers about best practices for COVID-19 issues like work-from-home stipends, furloughs, emergency leave ordinance, paycheck protection program, and return-to-office plans. And if you know of in-house counsels that have been impacted by reductions in force, share open roles and opportunities with your network and offer help and guidance if your peers need it. 

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