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Law firms should be providing more digestible coronavirus advice and should consider working together and channeling efforts into pro-bono initiatives during such turbulent times, U.K. general counsel believe.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has seen law firms rush to produce bulletins, webinars and taskforces. But speaking to Law.com International’s U.K. arm, Legal Week, Sam Ross, general counsel at ComplyAdvantage, said there is almost no time to read the detailed bulletins being published by law firms. He thinks that a more digestible format would be beneficial for users.

“Different times warrant different thinking.”

“Perhaps the bulletins could be done as podcasts” he suggests. “Or having things on one page rather than too long. Law firms should keep it simple.”

Pointing to how supermarkets are now working together against the backdrop of relaxed competition laws, Ross also thinks law firms could “work together rather than having 12 separate bulletins”, as “different times warrant different thinking”. He adds that it would be useful for firms to “band together” and decide who will provide which updates.

Ross also said that another missing offering is free template documents, such as standard documents to deal with common issues. While these would be “incredibly useful”, he suggests this is something that GCs and law firms can work together on.

“What GCs need in a crisis is not generic marketing but trusted adviser relationships which help their businesses make decisions that are often not about the law but about doing the right thing for that business and its stakeholders.”

For Edward Walker, former interim general counsel at Vivo Energy, the coronavirus is being used as “an opportunity to market” on social media. He highlighted the example of the numerous law firm posts on LinkedIn advertising their COVID-19 specific services.

He said “that what GCs need in a crisis is not generic marketing but trusted adviser relationships which help their businesses make decisions that are often not about the law but about doing the right thing for that business and its stakeholders”.

He added it can be difficult to hear sensible advice from trusted advisers amid all the generic marketing noise.

“GCs don’t need to know detailed law, they need someone to spar with about what the right thing to do is. It’s about deeper values”, he continued.

But law firms should not limit themselves to solely advising clients and should set newer, refreshed targets based on less insular thinking.

ComplyAdvantage’s Sam Ross added he would like to see law firms doubling down on pro bono efforts. “For example, a free webinar for self-employed people would be really impressive.”

“If law firms do have less work, they should use their time to of course look after their family and friends, but also to use their legal skills to help the most vulnerable”.

One head of legal in the construction sector said that the “speed and multi-faceted nature of this crisis will test business’ major incident response plans and disaster management capability”. As such, short-term legal responses will include “analysing the macro picture by mapping contractual terms onto an economic prediction” while a medium term issue will be triaging issues with customers and suppliers.

The head of legal predicts “a lot of litigation about contractual interpretation and the like”, and would ask firms to “be at the forefront of this to understand contractual resilience against pandemics”. “In time, many businesses will probably need a bail out and there will no doubt be tricky legal issues in all that”, they said. 

Because the situation is so extreme, will GCs really spend £20,000 on a law firm? Or will they just pick up the phone to the person on the other side of the contract to come up with a solution?

Another general counsel of a fintech business questioned whether there is necessarily a huge opportunity for law firms. “There’s the obvious advice they can give on force majeure”, they say. “But because the situation is so extreme, will GCs really spend £20,000 on a law firm? Or will they just pick up the phone to the person on the other side of the contract to come up with a solution?”

“Trust is a big part here”, they add. “So if law firms do advise on contracts and their terms, it should be practical advice first”.

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