In today’s world, general counsel face an ever-increasing demand to manage exponentially more risks, involving greater complexity, in much shorter time frames and with more potential impact on business performance. As expectations upon them evolve, law firm networks are assisting GCs in making their organisations more agile and effective.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted corporations the world over, general counsel were finding their roles becoming increasingly challenging, moving from simply providing legal advice to making strategic decisions and helping to manage risk. “To say their plates are full right now is an understatement,” says Christian Traichel, a partner at Taylor Wessing in Germany and president of World Law Group (WLG). Law firm networks such as WLG are beginning to realise this, and as a result, rolling out tools and initiatives to help general counsel in making their organisations more agile and effective. Traichel talks about a few aspects
of the GC’s role that WLG’s initiatives are targeting. First up is globalisation. “As cross-border and multi-national matters become more commonplace, GCs must understand – or have boots on the ground to help them understand – the political and cultural environment within each country and jurisdiction where their companies operate or plan to expand to,” he notes. “WLG carefully selects members in each jurisdiction in which we operate, and our members are well-established regional firms that can help GCs navigate the local legal and political system. And, our members know each other well and have developed a level of trust with each other that is unmatched, and not common in mega-firms. We’ve always called ourselves a “best-friends network” and believe the relationships our lawyers have built over the years has tremendously helped us better serve clients on a global scale.”
Then, there is technology. “Even pre-pandemic, technology and the related privacy, data and cybersecurity issues were big concerns for general counsel,” says Traichel. “Now, with so many companies managing remote and hybrid workforces, there is a whole new piece to the puzzle. With the implementation of GDPR in 2018 and the global ripple effect, WLG’s Privacy & Data Protection Group has been a great resource for members to discuss how to comply and what the future may hold for jurisdictions outside of the EU.”
“In consequence of a fast-changing social, political and legal environment, ESG is becoming an important part of corporations’ long-term strategic plans and reporting obligations, and general counsel are a key change agent for this, which includes requiring their service providers to do the same. In-house counsel are now faced with considering not only financial and legal issues, but also what is right in terms of the environmental and societal impact on decision-making.”
—Christian Traichel, World Law Group
Another area is employment and HR. “Working with Human Resources to navigate employment issues including furloughs and layoffs, managing teams that are remote or hybrid, and preparing for bringing employees back to the office safely,” says Traichel. “As an example, our Human Resources Law Group recently collaborated on an Employer COVID-19 Vaccination policies Q&A, in which our firms discuss whether or not employers can require a vaccine for employees to return to work, and if employees could refuse. As vaccines roll out, we’ll be updating this Q&A.
Finally, Traichel highlights ESG and corporate social responsibility. “In consequence of a fast-changing social, political and legal environment, ESG is becoming an important part of corporations long-term strategic plans and reporting obligations, and general counsel are a key change agent for this, which includes requiring their service providers to do the same,” he notes. “In-house counsel are now faced with considering not only financial and legal issues, but also what is right in terms of the environmental and societal impact on decision-making.”
Traichel points out that while general counsel have certainly dealt with many of these issues pre-pandemic, COVID-19 has most definitely exacerbated the challenges they previously faced. “In addition to the initiatives I discussed earlier, WLG has taken a number of steps to help our member firms assist GCs in navigating these challenges,” he notes. “Similar to the vaccine Q&A, we’re planning to do more of these quick global Q&As that member firms can share with their clients. One we currently have in the works will address employment and compensation issues that companies facing insolvency will likely deal with.”
He highlights the CSR issue as an interesting one. “I suppose by the nature of remote work, there has been quite a positive natural impact on CSR,” says Traichel. “However, one of the main goals of the current WLG Board of Directors is a network-wide CSR initiative, in which we proactively do more. We launched a CSR Forum to allow member firms to discuss and share best practices with each other and plan for a WLG network-wide initiative. Of course, when we can meet again in-person, CSR will play a role in how we organise our in-person events.”
According to Traichel, WLG’s 16 practice and industry groups are a key tool for its members to share knowledge and discuss important legal changes that will affect cross-border clients.
He adds that the WLG Board of Directors, Group and Committee Leaders, and Staff Team are constantly reviewing our programs, communications, and outreach to member firms. “We’ve taken a dig-deep approach within our member firms over this past year to make sure it’s not just our Key Relationship Managers within the firms who are reaping the benefits of the network, but all lawyers and professionals within our member firms… and their clients,” Traichel notes. “We’ve not just focused on internal offerings and trainings for member firm lawyers and professionals, but also webinars, publications and other resources that firms’ clients can directly benefit from as well.”
Traichel believes that by better educating WLG’s member firms about best practices from their global peers, they are better positioned to help their clients adapt. “While this is new for everyone, different countries are handling the situation differently and all are at various stages in the process of controlling this pandemic and moving beyond it,” he says. “Firms are also discussing the lessons learned and new initiatives put in place to manage the challenges thrown at them this year and what aspects of those new processes they may opt to keep in place post-pandemic due to their success.
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