Lawyers should wake up to the new reality!
Updated: May 1, 2020
Last week I had a conversation with the general counsel of a large global company that is listed at the New York Stock Exchange. This company is in the business of designing, marketing and producing consumer goods, through an extensive network of resellers and a number of owned stores. Their brands are among the most recognizable and celebrated in the world. In other words: this is a true blue-chip company.
Business was bad, the GC acknowledged. This was obviously no surprise. With most of the world in lockdown and stores closed, it was unavoidable for their sales to take a massive hit. The legal department was now mostly occupied with shareholder communications, refinancing existing debt, renegotiating commitments with suppliers and with clients. This certainly was not business as usual and the large team that would normally look after the trademarks, licenses and copyrights had now been redeployed to other areas.
What really had surprised this GC was just how tone deaf most of their panel firms seemed to be. The legal department had been inundated as of mid-March with countless Covid-19 newsletters, which this GC and his team had found mostly useless and to some extent a bit insulting. “You know Jaap, I have a stellar legal team here, some of the best lawyers in the industry. We have years of experience between us; we know our business and we can read. We don’t need law firms to tell us what ‘Force Majeure’ is and what the latest government measures are”. The GC also shared his frustration that the majority of the panel firms kept acting as if it were business as usual. “My company is facing an existential crisis and we have totally different priorities right now. It seems that the lawyers fail to recognize this. It all seems a bit tone-deaf to me”
Is it true that lawyers are tone-deaf?
Most of us have been in lockdown for more than six weeks now and all of us are desperate for something pleasant to look forward to. For a lawyer, what could be nicer than the prospect of meeting friends from all over the world at a conference? The IBA annual conference is scheduled from 1 – 6 November in Miami USA. AIJA has scheduled their 58th International Young Lawyers’ Congress from 24-28 August 2020 in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. Many other international lawyer networks have scheduled similar events. So, how realistic do you think it is gathering hundreds or even thousands of lawyers in a conference room and at social and networking events any time soon?
It seems that lawyers are somewhat slow in recognizing that the world has changed. April 27 Norwegian Airlines (Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA) announced to its investors that, in order to survive, most of its debt needs to be converted into equity and that it intends to keep almost its entire fleet grounded for the next 12 months only to start gradually ramp-up its flights as of summer season 2021, hoping to resume ‘normal’ operations as of 2022. Bear in mind that Norwegian Airlines is one of the most successful and profitable airlines in the world. Norwegian does not see the return of flying as we knew it anytime soon, if at all.
Much-lauded Airbnb, whose business is currently at an all time low, announced that it will publish a stringent Cleaning Protocol for its hosts by end of May. Under the cleaning protocol program, hosts must clean every room in a rental following strict Airbnb enhanced guidance and procedures, and there will be a certification process. There is a 24-hour between stays requirement even with the rigorous cleaning protocol program, and currently the booking buffer default is set at 72 hours. That is a mandatory 3 days vacancy between two bookings to keep guests safe. Hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott are implementing similar measures. How come lawyers still expect to meet in Miami or Rio any time soon? Can’t they see how much the world has changed?
How much do you actually know about your clients’ business?
Going by the example of the conferences and the comments of the GC, maybe lawyers have gone a bit out of touch. About a year ago, I published an article ‘Clients don’t have legal issues, they have a business to run’ and an other article raising the question whether a lawyer should be considered ‘part of the opportunity or part of the costs’? And if you are interested here and here are further articles on the same topic.
As it is even in non-crisis times extremely important for lawyers to understand how exactly their client is making money, it is even more important right now. When the whole economy unravels like it is now and everything is shifting, companies will have completely new agendas. Lawyers should know what these agendas are in order to remain relevant.
At TGO Consulting we are working with our clients to execute (training) programs that focus on educating partners on the impact Covid-19 will have on the economy. The programs stimulate partners to engage in meaningful conversations on business with their clients and foster sharing of market intelligence between partners. The better partners understand the impact on the economy and the more they know about their clients’ business model, the better they can engage in strategic conversations and the more relevant the advice they will be able to offer. As stated before: clients do not have legal issues, they have a business to run.
Under the present conditions companies will likely only spend money on lawyers who help them protect their bottom line.
The programs we have developed are conducted through video conferencing and no in-person meetings between lawyers are required. We have been running them for four weeks now and they have proven to be highly effective. If you would like to know more about these programs or are considering running them at your firm, please send an email to email@example.com and Lisa will answer all your questions.
For those of you interested, I will be doing a webinar for the IBA on Monday 18 May from 14:00 – 15:00 CET. Registration is free, also for non-members (but you are all members anyway). You can register here: https://www.ibanet.org/Avoiding-juristic-park.aspx
We are here to help
TGO Consulting is there to help you navigate the crisis. We have just finished writing a book on this topic, that we are now starting to edit. The book will be launched on May 18 at the IBA webinar. This book will be made available for free to all our clients during the month of May and will be available on Amazon thereafter. We will also continue to publish weekly articles on topics that are most relevant to you right now.
Our experience with law firms in China gives us a two-month head start in knowing what best to do. There will however remain many important unknowns and things can change really fast. This is where our unparalleled creativity has proven to be extremely valuable. We have a proven track-record to find effective solutions faster and better than anyone else. In the meantime, our TGO Consulting Research Team keeps monitoring the state of the economy literally 24/7 to ensure that our approach always remains fact-based.
Please do not hesitate to contact us to find out how we could help your firm navigate these challenging times.