With COVID-19 keeping lawyers at home and making face-to-face meetings difficult, in-house legal teams have had to embrace technology like never before. Legal department leaders say that this is not a passing phase; tech will be a critical component of their work long after the pandemic subsides.
What are the big ways you see COVID-19 alter permanently the way you work internally, as well as how you engage with law firms?
Debolina Partap, senior vice president legal and group general counsel, Wockhardt
The pandemic has forced people to view business from a different perspective. Most trade is now conducted via the Internet, barring certain essentials. In the legal profession, work has shifted predominantly online, be it video conferencing of hearings in courts, online arbitrations, or closing corporate deals digitally. In-house lawyers have shifted to laptops and the golden phrases are now “get on a Teams call” or “let’s Zoom in.” E-signatures are in vogue. Another great help to legal professionals has been the use of knowledge management tools. These have helped lawyers keep abreast with the latest developments in law and judgements. Various kinds of technology tools are also helping in-house counsel streamline processes in terms of tracking costs, billing processes, court trackers, IP trackers, contract management and so on. These will be permanent fixtures even beyond COVID-19.
Atul Juvle, general counsel, compliance officer & CS, India & South Asia, Schindler India
The virtual way of working and digitalisation will rule all the facets of the legal function - be it advisory, litigation filing-defending, training and transactions-due-diligence will be majority on virtual platform. Training, as well as contracts-risk review, will move to an automated platform. However, part of litigation will continue to be in-person till the systems and mindsets mature enough to reach 100 percent digitisation mode. The parties will prefer mediation or conciliation before taking a shot at litigation or arbitration, and for complex and long drawn matters, they will also review the option of third-party funding.
With regards to engaging law firms, we will be looking for firms that are eager to, and able to, deliver more on time with quality and at competitive fees. I am saying this as the year 2021 is expected to have 2.5 times the load of pending and new matters. Competitive fees may involve a shift from an hourly rate to matter-based billing.
Panduranga Acharya, director legal, Swiggy
In my view, the reliance on the legal team has increased during these unprecedented times.
Generally, in-house legal teams saw challenges in execution of assignments. Technology can come very handy at these times; however, I felt the legal framework is not very conducive. I hope things will start falling in place as we move forward. The in-house legal departments should open their arms to technology-based solutions and also demonstrate a great amount of adaptability to the changing circumstances to ensure they sustain the transformation in how we operate in the future.
I do not see much change in how we engage with law firms, but I guess there will be limited in-person interactions. Importantly, I felt the law firms can evaluate enabling technology-based interactions which can improve the tracking of assignments, maybe an interface module for real-time tracking with recording interactions, thus reducing the email communications.
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