Online interaction crucial for legal teams during pandemic

By Jerome Doraisamy|31 March 2020

At a time in which leaving the house is all but barred, staying engaged through technology is fundamental for the wellbeing and collegiality of the in-house team, says one former GC.

Speaking last week on The Corporate Counsel Show, Twine Business & Law director Cara Austen – who was formerly the general counsel for Allegis Group APAC – said it will be difficult for team leaders to manage staff whilst they are spread out and working from home.

There are, however, some strategies that can be implemented “to bring the team together”, she said.

WhatsApp groups, for example, were always a valuable outlet during her days as a GC, Ms Austen noted.

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“It was just for fun, really. It was about what I did on a weekend, what’s going on, and it’s about trying to make sure that you’ve got that continuous banter in the team so that people feel that they can pick up the phone and ask about the legal issues that they’re having, or the difficult question that they’re dealing with, or the crappy internal client conversation that they’d just had, which no doubt is happening,” she mused.

“If I was a GC now, I would be implementing a daily stand-up at the beginning of the day and Id also be debriefing with each of my staff members during the day. Its just absolutely essential. I would also be encouraging them to have regular debriefs with each other, and scheduling those in.

“These are not if you can, if you have time, do this. This is an essential part of maintaining the mental health and the connectivity of the team.”

It will also be crucial, Ms Austen continued, to facilitate virtual catch-ups to replace the standard Friday afternoon drinks or whatever other activities the legal team would undertake in normal times.

“Have your Friday morning coffee together. Talk about the weather and don’t focus on the coronavirus. Don’t focus on the contract that you’re reviewing. Talk about how you’re feeling and be a bit vulnerable,” she suggested.

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“Especially as a leader, it’s so important to lead by example and let everyone know if you’re having a hard time. You don’t have to have your armour on all the time. Lead people to be connected. Lead them to feel that they can come to you if they need support and help.”

More broadly, it is fundamentally important that GCs and other senior lawyers within the team properly manage their staff in accordance with the working environments they are used to, Ms Austen advised.

“I think one of the things to remember as an in-house counsel is that your job has always been to fix things. That’s what you do. You run around, you put out fires, you fix things, you make things work, you put bandaids over stuff,” she said.

“It is that whole being asked to do more with less, but you really need to take some time out to look after yourself now more than ever, and that isnt just playing with your kids. If you have kids, it might be literally taking 10 or 15 minutes to meditate, for example, or go for a walk, do something that is just for you so you could get just a little bit of headspace for yourself.

“Otherwise, you’re not going to be any good to your family, your friends or your colleagues.”

To listen to the full conversation with Cara Austen, click below:

Online interaction crucial for legal teams during pandemic
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