50 (145) 2021

Lessons from the Pandemic

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on team management and client relationships

By Dr Ewelina Stobiecka, managing partner in the Warsaw office of Taylor Wessing
Header ewelina stobiecka

Team- and client-relationship management underwent an accelerated evolution during the pandemic. Practically overnight, business leaders were challenged to adapt to new conditions. Also, the legal business – in my opinion – underwent a faster transformation and moved both internal and client relationships to a different level.

Relationships inside and outside the legal business have digitalised much faster. Meetings have moved online. However, quite unexpectedly this has often contributed to deepening relationships with clients with whom – due to geographical distances – contact was previously held mainly via teleconference. Meanwhile, thanks to the pandemic, video has been added to the audio mode.

In the area of dispute resolution, which is quite traditional in terms of service, the judicial processes have also been digitalised. Traditional and seemingly hermetic in form, the Polish judiciary moved quite quickly to an online mode. In addition, the most recent procedural changes in the Polish Civil Procedure Code move precisely in this more digitalised direction.

The law firm from the inside

The legal profession has the advantage that all you need to work is a computer, a telephone and access to legal databases. All of this can be provided from virtually anywhere in the world – of course, while maintaining client data security and confidentiality standards. Thus, it was easy for lawyers to switch from office-based to remote working. What had to adapt to the new conditions was actually the human interaction and ways of cooperation. Teams which used to discuss a case or a matter on a daily basis and had unlimited direct access to exchange experiences and knowledge, had to learn how to work in the videoconference mode. Apart from all the inconveniences associated with this, it is also worth pointing out the good sides of this exercise. Team work had to be planned even better as video meetings required discipline in terms of time and agenda. Time became more precious, and the calendars of individual team members required better coordination.

Another consequence of remote working is also a stronger emphasis on the digitalisation of documents, the so-called paperless system. A lawyer's job is to work with text, on a huge number of documents. Moving online, working from home has definitely reduced the number of printed pages. Also, the availability of well-functioning technological tools has led to the fact that sharing documents in electronic form has become more efficient, which has significantly accelerated work and organisational processes.

Relations with clients  

What the legal industry has had to face is nothing compared to what our clients have had to deal with. Different industries have been affected by the pandemic in different ways. These range from issues relating to the organisation and business operation to economic survival. The uncertainty associated with the pandemic, as well as changing legal conditions for conducting business, made the lawyer even more of a partner in business than ever before. Many law firms, including Taylor Wessing, have decided to support entrepreneurs in this difficult time by sharing their knowledge and making various analysis available or even by providing legal assistance free of charge.

However, the very organisation of remote working, and the fact that face-to-face contacts were made more difficult, has translated into more frequent video contacts with clients with whom so far there had been mainly e-mail or telephone communication. Unexpectedly, thanks to video contact, we can improve contact with clients from other geographical areas, as we have replaced the telephone with video meetings.

The forums for exchanging experiences that foster business contacts have also changed. Traditional meetings during seminars, conferences or cocktail parties have been replaced by webinars which, thanks to recording, can serve a wider audience. Paradoxically, therefore, the virtual elimination of live meetings contributed (at least in the initial phase of the pandemic) to better attendance (wider coverage) during webinars.

Dispute resolution

What concerns specifically the work of lawyers, namely dispute resolution, has also changed under the influence of the pandemic. In addition to the positive aspects of the above-mentioned faster digitalisation of courts and online case handling, the negative consequences of the pandemic should also be noted. Many cases, especially the more complex ones, have been significantly slowed down. Many cases were dropped from the docket and many were postponed for reasons directly related to the ongoing pandemic. Looking at dispute resolution more broadly, however, it seems that the problems of the justice system (exacerbated by the pandemic) have drawn more business attention to alternative methods of resolving business disputes. The question of how to resolve a dispute without going to court was asked far more frequently during this time than before the pandemic.

Let us hope that this increased awareness of various methods of conflict resolution will translate into more frequent recourse to mediation or arbitration.

Lessons for the future

Definitely, many of the working solutions enforced by the pandemic will stay with us for longer. Remote working, increased use of technology, paperless or digitisation of justice are phenomena that will become commonplace in a post-pandemic reality. Even now, being aware of the approaching or rising next wave of diseases, we can approach the subject of functioning of business in changing conditions more consciously and in a planned manner.

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