It’s the Zoom cups of coffee that will cement teamwork – Stuart Gillies

Agile working has beome a basic requirement of business during the lockdown – but be sure to maintain human contact, says Stuart Gillies

Stuart Gillies, Associate at CMS

Agile working has long been on the radar for most businesses. But what used to be a benefit offered by some firms is now a basic requirement for the majority to remain in operation. The current lockdown instigated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the new norm of working from home has brought new challenges, that are not unique to the legal sector, in how we support clients.

As a banking and finance lawyer within an international law firm, working remotely was a common practice well before the current crisis took hold. However, the rapid spread of Covid-19 has led many businesses to have to adapt to this new world of working quicker than they perhaps would have liked. While the volume of work has not significantly changed, the way in which it’s being performed certainly has. Fortunately, technology has the answer.

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Working effectively as a team is crucial to any organisation. Online connectivity addresses this with the use of communication and collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, to bring colleagues together. Video conferencing not only helps retain a sense of teamwork, bolstering morale and mental health at a time when many are experiencing virtual social isolation, but it can also be useful for supporting junior members of a team. It ensures everyone is on the same page through social cues such as facial expressions that can be otherwise lost when working remotely.

While the means of interaction may be different, many legal and corporate functions are still able to progress during lockdown. The ability of companies to pass board or shareholder resolutions, for example, has not been significantly altered. Subject to a company’s specific constitutional documents (check the articles of association), there are no general restrictions on where or how a board or shareholder meeting can take place.

Signing documents electronically is not a new development but has tended to be set aside as an option in favour of traditional, ‘wet-ink’ signatures which offer more reliability and comfort. However, this is difficult in the current climate and there are now software packages such as DocuSign that circumvent some of these issues by recording the metadata and therefore maintaining the chain of authenticity. Certain types of documents, particularly those relating to land or types of trusts in Scotland, require additional formalities that simple electronic signatures cannot satisfy. Local counsel advice should always be sought where a party is located overseas.

The complications around documents that need to be registered at Companies House and/or the Land Register of Scotland are being addressed in light of the current crisis. Companies House already provides for online registration of corporate and security documents. The disruption caused by the closure of the two property registers is largely addressed in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020, which came into force earlier this month. This provides for the electronic submission of certain property documents for registration in the Land Register. This electronic submission system is currently being piloted and should go live shortly.

Other technologies are also being used to their full potential during the lockdown. Document and transaction management tools which connect all parties in an online deal room portal allow for fast and efficient engagement for all stakeholders involved in a transaction. Machine learning AI tools are being used to support accelerated contract reviews. These tools were used before Covid-19 and will undoubtedly become even more commonplace in future as the lockdown necessitates their increased usage.

In adjusting to this new normality, it’s also important for lawyers (and other professions) to retain some of the social aspects of their working lives. While this can be a challenge, it’s not impossible. We’ve used video conferencing technology to hold our end-of-week team drinks sessions. This has proved an ideal platform to catch up with colleagues on a more informal basis with pets and children sometimes making a cameo appearance.

While technology has better enabled the legal sector to keep functioning and supporting clients during this pandemic, it’s ultimately human contact, whether this is a Zoom coffee or virtual prosecco, that will get all of us through these challenging times.

Stuart Gillies, Associate at CMS

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