Give us concise information on covid-19, say GCs to external counsel
It’s information overload for legal teams at the moment, who are inundated with guidance from external counsel on how to handle operations amid the covid-19 crisis. As governments race to push through fresh legislation each day, LACCA finds out how in-house counsel and law firms are communicating during this unprecedented time, and what is and isn’t working.
Across the globe, companies from all sectors are contending with the paralysing impact of the covid-19 outbreak. The first wave of the virus reached Latin American shores at the end of February with the first confirmed case in Brazil. Since then, the spread of the virus has seen most jurisdictions enforce restrictions and lockdowns, with some countries implementing stricter rules than others.
In light of the constantly evolving situation, law firms are taking the opportunity to keep their clients updated on new legislation and government directives issued in response to the crisis. LACCA and affiliate publication Latin Lawyer recently launched a free-to-view covid-19 information hub with regularly updated information on legislation changes across Latin America. Meanwhile, in-house lawyers are opening their inboxes to avalanches of information sent from their external counsel: from advice on best practices to updates on legislative changes. Although helpful, this influx of information can be overwhelming. It raises the question of how law firms can provide key advice in a digestible format, without inundating clients, and how GCs should ask their external counsel for more concise nuggets of information.
A welcome lifeboat
Information is reaching global in-house teams in a sea of formats. From newsletters to real-time bulletins to webinars, there is a lot of information out there for GCs to consume.
For example, Brazilian firm TozziniFreire Advogados has hosted virtual roundtable discussions with partners and guest speakers. Chile’s Carey has set up a microsite detailing the legal implications of covid-19 for the country. Other initiatives launched by law firms amid the crisis range from a real-time news portal, such as that set up by Colombian firm Brigard Urrutia, to specialised email inboxes designed specifically to address covid-19 related queries, as created by Central America’s Consortium Legal. As well as these innovative solutions, most firms also send clients daily news alerts to keep them in the loop.
Most in-house lawyers have thus far welcomed the communication as a reassuring sense of structure during uncertain circumstances. “As governments are publishing tons of new regulations and decrees to cope with the pandemic, the information coming from the law firms helps us to understand what is going on,” says Valeria Camacho Martins Schmitke, in-house counsel at Brazil’s Zurich Minas Seguros. Receiving calls from partners and lawyers at firms is also a personal touch that has been reassuring, she adds.
Law firm communications can be a useful means for in-house counsel to quickly interpret lengthy documents of legislation, because the firm distils the key points into concise nuggets of advice on what companies can expect. Arturo Okumura, legal counsel at Brazil’s Coes Sinac says the information his company has received from firms so far has helped him foresee potential regulation changes and prepare for what might be ahead. “Their analyses generate predictability about this new situation, which help clients make better decisions,” he says.
No time for generalists
The unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that companies and their legal teams require, now more than ever, quick and easy-to-navigate resolutions that are relevant to their industry. In-house lawyers do not want to wade through endless amounts of general information right now – they want something that’s targeted and specific to their needs. Otherwise, Telefónica’s Costa Rican legal counsel Mario Pacheco remarks that some law firms’ efforts can feel like a marketing strategy, with the influx of information sometimes at risk of feeling like a repetition of information already published and available to the public.
“We try to be very selective in what we share,” says Garrigues partner Jaime Iglesias. With legislation changes and new regulations being passed daily across the region, Iglesias acknowledges that “it is very difficult for our clients to stay up to date with all this constant flow of information.” For legal teams, the more concise and bitesize the information, the better. GCs shouldn’t be afraid to ask their external counsel to send only the most relevant information that will impact their business and sector.
To help internal counsel identify the most important changes that are relevant to their company, Brazil’s ABB Power Grids legal counsel Luiz Radulov recommends firms break down information into digestible headlines that encompass both the practice area and jurisdiction affected by a particular legislative update, allowing legal teams to find relevant information much faster than having to sift through lengthy or generalised emails. It’s this attention to detail that GCs value from their external counsel. “It really helps, especially when you have to oversee many different jurisdictions where lots of regulations are recurrently issued. It helps having corresponding analysis prepared by the local law firms,” says Acciona’s Madrid-based legal counsel Fernando Beguiristaín.
Ask and you should receive
Companies face myriad legal issues right now, and each are prioritising different objectives. While some companies are scrambling for information about short-term solutions (such as how to access government schemes and funding), others are seeking more long-term guidance, like forecasts of the wider economic implications for their market. It’s important firms tap into what their clients are after to support them on an individual basis as best as they possibly can during the crisis.
Chile’s Morales & Besa is working on producing specific guides relevant to particular topics such as labour, taxation and antitrust matters, alongside a host of other impacted areas. Colombia’s Gómez-Pinzón has released up-to-the-minute flash news updates on its website where visitors can perform a keyword search among the latest legislation changes. Brazil’s Pinheiro Neto Advogados is also adapting its information for a varied client base. “Some clients are more focused on day-to-day operations, while others are already looking ahead and want to start to take action as soon as possible,” says partner Alexandre Bertoldi.
Their responses match a surge in demand from clients for clear and responsive instruction amid a fast-changing situation. In-house teams benefit from information presented in both digestible and more in-depth formats from law firms, depending on what their needs are. GCs should report back to their external counsel what has been most helpful; if they feel what they are receiving is too generalised or not relevant to their particular business or industry, they should speak up.
Considering “the volatility of the situation,” says Santiago Monti, the general counsel for Honda in Argentina, the communication between legal teams and their external counsel will constantly evolve, too, as the crisis develops. Ultimately, the firms that can prove most helpful during this crisis and those who listen most attentively to client feedback are the ones that will be remembered most favourably by companies further down the line.