The Coronavirus, or COVID-19 was declared a Global Pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday March 11. This has impacted government institutions, and both private and public companies which also resulted in legal teams across any and all organizations being affected. As the crisis hits many cities and regions, municipalities are asking companies to allow non-essential employees to work from home. Given the white-collar nature of legal teams, working from home is a good and viable option. However, the question arises if legal teams are equally prepared for this challenge.
Access to Essential Resources
Part of the role of organizational risk management is to make sure your team can first, stay safe themselves, and second, assist your clients with day-to-day business challenges. Most legal teams are equipped with laptops, mobile phones and a location where the employee can work remotely. But, in the matter of legal issues, can the entire team access all your contracts, and critical documents?
Among large and enterprise sized organizations, a majority are still using manual methods to process, manage and store contracts. In fact, 62% still use manual methods to process, manage, and store their contracts. Given the 20,000 to 40,000 or more active contracts at any given large-enterprise sized organization, this is a Herculean task. From a contracts perspective, not only are most companies ill equipped to manage a crisis of this magnitude, many have not even considered a remedy. This is certainly not a picture of preparedness.
Why the Concern?
When your legal team is working remotely and needs to review the terms and conditions of a specific contract, they can’t walk down the hall to access it. They don’t have easy answers to simple questions. For example, that high-profile case associated with a contract from a few years back – was it a class action suit, with points on mass torts, or was it a set of smaller product recalls.
If the high-profile case was associated with a contract, then all this information should be in one single place – and that place can’t be physical, with limited access. After all, if your entire staff isn’t in the office, then a contract stored in someone’s desk, second drawer down on the right, isn’t helping anyone.
More Than Crisis Management Lawyers
Building a robust corporate legal team isn’t about having a team of attorneys who are all experts at crisis communications. Rather, teams need to be empowered with digital tools. Work, documents and contracts need to be digitally available, anywhere and anytime. Specifically, in a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, teams have to be just as effective remotely as if they were working together in an office. This means assets and information have to be available, easy to find, and useable. Given that contracts are the lifeblood of the modern organization, cloud-based contract management systems are not a luxury. Rather, they are a necessity.
How Can Contract Management Help?
Contract management systems serve as a contract’s system of record. These solutions contain all the contracts involving your organization, as well as all the records associated with them. Best of all, these details and information are available to the attorney whether they are remote or not. It gives them the information they need to make intelligent and informed decisions. Doing so can prevent any further risks arising from the crisis, and its impact on the business partners.
Second, challenging times always come with an element of introspection at the corporate level. Senior leadership teams will want contract analyses run so they can understand what the impact and penalties might be on a failure to deliver certain products. Are there force majeure clauses in the contracts, limiting liabilities and indemnities? What are your obligations in challenging times? How many contracts have certain liabilities associated with them?
All this would simply be impossible to answer in the state of paper-based contracts stored in row upon row of filing cabinets. At best, it would still be challenging even if the contracts were available digitally yet spread out across the network in various drives around the world.
The Upside of Crises
Nobody wants to think about the benefits that result from a crisis. But contingency planning for legal teams helps a business prepare for the next crisis, whether large or small. Continuously evaluating current processes to ensure a company, even while working under duress – can function “business as usual” – is essential. And for in-house legal teams, that comes with the ability to capture and automate contract data – anytime, anywhere.