The GC’s role during COVID-19
From a governance perspective, general counsel have a “critical” role to play in helping organisations weather the storm of coronavirus.
General counsel and chief legal officers are inextricably linked to the success and function of organisations across the board at the best of times.
During a global pandemic, however, the importance of such a profession is “critical”, says Governance Institute of Australia CEO Megan Motto, given how uncertain and unpredictable the sociopolitical, economic and environmental landscape is shaping up to be – not just in the coming months, but potentially the next few years.
“One of the most important things is thinking about the impact of current events on the company’s governance model and structures. Adapting the organisation’s governance model to dealing with current circumstances will be key,” she told Lawyers Weekly.
“For example, for most organisations the annual orderly flow of meetings has been completely disrupted. The board and some committees might be meeting more often, other committees are meeting less. Consider if you need another committee to deal with issues that are now arising. Most company AGMs will be disrupted this year.
“Additionally, meetings that used to be face-to-face are now being run through digital channels. The role of GC/head of legal [is] ensuring regulatory and statutory frameworks are still being met (for example, the use of electronic signatures), in addition to keeping an eye out for any other risks.
“Keeping information flowing through the organisation and ensuring the board has the information it needs to make decisions rapidly [are] essential. Make sure you remember to keep engaging with your key stakeholders and stay on top of the regulatory changes that are coming out.”
It will also be crucial, Ms Motto added, for the GC or head of legal to keep communication channels open with the rest of the organisation, particularly during periods of remote working.
“Set in place regular catch-up meetings with key people in your organisation to ensure there is a flow of critical information. Of course, from a practical perspective, ensure you have what you need to work remotely in terms of technology and other resources,” she advised.
“And, be aware that as the broader situation continues to change, it is likely these requirements and expectations may also continue to evolve. Ironically, ‘social distancing’ will necessitate more collaboration than ever.”
When asked how best GCs and heads of legal can be managing their team at this most unusual of junctures, Ms Motto suggested that it is “important to ensure your team is connected and engaged, both from the perspective of having the required resources and technology to be able to do their job remotely, but also supported from a wellbeing and mental health perspective”.
“You can play a key role in helping keep engagement levels up and workflow moving. Also, ensure there are some lighter times in the working week, for example by implementing a Friday afternoon (virtual) drinks catch-up,” she said.
“Be mindful that many in your team are also juggling increased home responsibilities or are concerned about older parents and that it is a period of settling into a new routine.”
Moreover, there are professional opportunities for GCs and heads of legal during this time, Ms Motto concluded.
“This is a time when being agile, adaptable and looking for ‘out of the box’ solutions is so important,” she proclaimed.
“We are already seeing so many employees and organisations doing this to great effect. From a knowledge perspective, it is critical that the GC/head of legal stays up to date on the latest information and policy announcements for their industry.
“This is moving at light speed, as we are all witnessing. Work out a position on these announcements and how they are likely to impact the industry and business. Consider the risks and key points to share within the organisation.”