GC must be an ‘anchor’ during pandemic

By Jerome Doraisamy|24 March 2020
Ryan Rayfield

More so than ever before, general counsel have a duty to keep a legal team moving forward and provide direction, says one professional.

In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the role of a general counsel is to “anchor everyone” to the important role the legal department has in helping a business navigate the crisis.

That is the view of American Express Australia vice-president and head of legal Ryan Rayfield, who says that GCs must keep the team moving forward and provide direction more so now than ever before.

“It’s easy to get lost in the chaos, the misinformation and the emotional turmoil, and just to grind to a halt, but now more than ever, is the time to get your team focused on adding value with legal review, risk mitigation, temporary procedural and policy changes, and supporting the business with an effective internal and external comms strategy,” he explained.

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“And, equally as important to all of that, is showing the right leadership – being open and available to your team, being authentic and showing the right level of vulnerability, remaining calm and being able to have a laugh, when everyone really needs it.”

When asked about the proactive and reactive steps that a GC must take in a time such as this, Mr Rayfield said that it is important to get on the front foot and have the team deeply consider how best it can support and add value to the business.

“An example of this is when the severity of this situation became evident, the team sat down and worked out the most significant partnerships, third-party relationships, transactions, products and supply chain risks, and started to put together a dashboard for the business [focusing] on areas of priority,” he recounted.

“As far as being reactive, that is par for the course in a situation like this where the environment we’re in changes day-to-day as do the issues crystallising for the business – so as team being ready, willing and able to turn your hand to whatever lands on your desk is our priority.”

From a workplace perspective, there are additional steps that must be taken to keep morale at optimal levels and build collegiality across the legal team, Mr Rayfield mused.

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Such community is fundamental, he noted, as part of being an “anchor” for the team.

“With all of us working from home, the most important thing is staying in touch regularly, and doing everything you can to maintain a really positive virtual culture – one thing we’ve realised as a team is that you can’t underestimate the impact of not seeing each other as often as we used to, along with the friendly banter and support that goes with that, so setting up video conferencing, [15-minute] team chats just to say hi, and having a WhatsApp group that is just as much about sharing info as it is about having a laugh, is incredibly important,” he said.

“Working in isolation can be hard, and for many people, can pose mental health challenges, so keeping in touch via whatever medium or platform we have available, should be an absolute priority!”

GC must be an ‘anchor’ during pandemic
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