COVID-19 has suddenly and profoundly impacted all of our personal and professional lives.
In the professional sphere, the last few weeks have seen law firms make a wholesale shift to remote working, address numerous operational challenges and respond to a tougher financial environment. And all the while working to support clients facing the same sudden and extreme disruption to their businesses.
This of course creates an environment alive with risks which include:
- rapid changes in legislation, court procedures and regulatory guidance. By way of example, see our attached briefing here on the impact of COVID-19 on courts around the world, which is being updated weekly;
- novel and urgent practical issues arising in relation to client work (eg client due diligence/AML, attendance at court) – and solutions (eg virtual court hearings, electronic signature/service of documents), some of which in turn introduce their own risks;
- swift changes in client need (eg expected downturn in M&A and real estate work and increased need for contract, insurance and restructuring/insolvency advice which may require lawyers to be repurposed);
- issues around working remotely (data confidentiality/security, cyber risks, challenge of supervision, communication, IT limitations, mental health);
- staffing difficulties (due to sickness, family demands, reduced support capabilities);
- diversion of senior resources and attention (away from client matters to managing the firm's own response);
- financial pressures (with some clients seeking to maintain revenue "at all costs");
- ongoing regulatory scrutiny - while the SRA might in some cases take a more pragmatic and proportionate approach, it remains very much operational in its pursuit of ongoing investigations and is commencing new ones during this period;
- reputational risk; and
- longer term, further disruption during recovery (which will be at different times in different places and with some aspects of professional life changed forever).
We will be drilling down into these issues – and importantly how to mitigate them - in short mailings over the coming weeks. And we will also look at what aspects of work done previously might, in due course, lead to claims being made as a result of COVID-19 (eg alleged failures to have included responsive performance-excusing and/or force majeure clauses in commercial contracts or to have advised appropriately on contractual risks).
If there are any other issues you would particularly like us to cover then please do let us know.
In the meantime, we, along with all of our colleagues at Clyde & Co, send our best wishes to you, your families and your organisations during these difficult and uncertain times.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.