Corporate legal operations (“ops”) in today’s pandemic-stricken world is challenging and unpredictable, mirroring the overall impact COVID-19 has had on our daily lives. In a matter of weeks, as governments worldwide issued “social isolation” mandates, most organizations were forced to completely transform to a Work from Home (WFH) environment, equipping most, or perhaps all, employees and contractors to work remotely, in order to continue operations.
In this new “normal,” corporate legal ops professionals and the constituencies they serve must steadily navigate forward to keep business moving and ensure that off-site workers are productive and compliant. Since many of the WFH arrangements–technology, security, and workflows–were established under duress as the pandemic swept the globe, it is time to reflect on some of the best practices being established day by day as legal ops professionals learn and innovate.
Find, Monitor and Fix
Just as there are issues to be addressed in our traditional brick and mortar workplaces, there are disconnects and problems with a virtual, WFH workplace that require the attention of legal ops professionals. To bridge the divide, proactive, frequent, open communication among team members and leveraging monitoring tools and KPI metrics to identify potential issues is critical.
Establish a culture of improvement that encourages team members to proactively bring issues forward so they can be resolved, and provide incentives for reporting problems and suggesting resolutions. Utilize mechanisms to draw out useful insights from personnel such as short, focused employee surveys.
Business intelligence and productivity monitoring tools can be used to glean substantial data from behind-the-scenes. Establishing baseline metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be monitored and used to evaluate employee performance is a helpful step in gauging success. Analyze where employees are doing well, and where they are having trouble. Notice which level of help they need, with a goal of increasing their independence and identifying areas requiring additional training. Self-reliant workers have great value in a WFH era, and metrics can tell you how well employees are accomplishing work independently – or not.
Since technology makes WFH possible, frequent communication with corporate IT helps legal ops determine whether internet bandwidth/telecom issues, security threats, inadequate software training, or lack of daily in-person supervision are hindering legal workflow. Legal ops experts provide human resources to bridge the gap between the GC’s office and IT so technology is optimally serving legal professionals.
Legal ops professionals play a pivotal role in protecting confidential data as it flows between corporate legal, IT solutions, law firms and ALSPs (alternative legal service providers). Even before COVID-19 hit, cyber incidents were on the rise. Now, the previous volume of phishing, virus, ransomware and malware cases has been further compounded by WFH related factors. Malicious hackers are capitalizing on COVID-related chaos, confusion and potentially at-risk home technology environments. Therefore, now is an ideal time to remind employees and vendors of cyber threats and corporate data security policies which safeguard information and uphold compliance regulations.
Drafting of new or revised procedure language may be warranted as WFH business practices evolve. Policy documents from 2-3 months ago may be already obsolete since new cyber threats and jurisdictional specifics have possibly changed. Policies must be rigid enough to protect the organization while also flexible enough to pivot as external changes arise.
External service providers such as independent contractors, ALSPs and law firms must be able to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to upholding the company’s data security and confidentiality. Adherence to security policy is important now that documents and emails are primarily being received and sent from home computers and wireless devices. Data security must be a priority for everyone. Legal ops can take the lead to ensure its integrity stays intact throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Hiring During COVID-19
Many organizations have reduced headcount during this crisis. However, other legal departments and legal organizations have had to hire new or repurpose existing talent to manage existing litigation, revise contracts, review documents, and more. Even if they are not hiring right now, companies must prepare to ingest a wave of new litigation that will likely be coming as a result of this crisis. Some work can be done internally, but much will also be outsourced to law firms or ALSPs.
When onboarding new team members, coordinate with HR and IT to ensure that their hardware, software and security are optimized from the beginning. Consider providing a fully equipped “start-up kit” if this is feasible. Assess new hires’ technology acumen and make sure they have skills and training to become self-sufficient as soon as possible. Since employees are working on their own without supervision, they must be self-starters so they can work independently.
Legal Ops Builds the Bridges
No one knows how much longer the COVID-19 crisis will continue, or whether it will recur at future dates. One thing that is certain is that legal services delivery, and business in general, will likely never be the same again. As corporations and legal service providers have been forced to adopt WFH measures, they have learned to innovate, leverage technology, and build greater efficiency. The sharp focus of legal ops professionals on these exact topics means that their expertise will continue to be indispensable to their employers. Legal ops professionals are the architects who build and maintain the bridges that can prevent organizations from falling into deep chasms during a crisis like COVID.