Organisations are increasingly turning to their in-house legal professionals to support them with meeting their legal and regulatory obligations during the coronavirus outbreak.
Recent surveys run by the Law Society of Scotland show that workloads have increased for the majority of legal staff working within the organisations operating across a range of different sectors. In particular businesses have been calling on their legal teams to help them meet their obligations under employment law and in relation to regulatory/statutory compliance.
Over 500 Scottish solicitors and the Heads of Legal/General Counsel for over 50 different businesses, responded to the surveys. These were used to gather information about the impact the pandemic is having on members of the profession working in-house.
The vast majority of in-house Heads of Legal/General Counsel who took part in a telephone survey (80%) reported that their in-house legal team had adapted very well while a further 20% said they had adapted satisfactorily. The telephone survey indicated that overall, just under 70% of in-house legal services had experienced either a significant increase or some increase in workload, albeit those working in retail and hospitality had seen a decrease in workload.
The surveys indicated that there was greater focus on employers’ regulatory /statutory compliance, contracts and commercial, including debt recovery and employment law, and HR matters such as furlough, as a result of the pandemic.
Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The increased demands on in-house legal teams show that businesses are recognising the importance of having access to skilled, professional staff who can support them during this time. I would however ask all employers with in-house legal teams to carefully consider the impact these increased workloads can have upon their staff. More work demands and longer days can affect both physical and mental health and employers should be checking in with their legal teams to make sure they are able to ask for help if they need it.”
The survey also highlighted the positive response from in-house solicitors to the Society’s decision to reduce solicitors’ practising certificate fee for 2020-21. Around 60% of Heads of in-house legal teams responding to the survey said reducing the practising certificate fee was a welcome, or very welcome, contribution to managing financial challenges. The reduction was agreed as part of a £2.2m financial package created by the Society to help minimise the impact of Covid-19 across the legal profession.
The full results of the surveys are now being considered by the In-house Lawyers Committee of the Law Society of Scotland. The committee will use the information as they consider areas to focus on for this sector of the profession in the coming months.
Sheekha Saha and Vlad Valiente, co-conveners of the In-house Lawyers Committee, said: “It is important in these challenging times that we get a sense from across the sector of the impact of the coronavirus. Working in-house presents different challenges for our members as they balance the demands of their employers against their personal circumstances.
“It is comforting to see that most people responding to the survey are feeling positive about the future, with over 70% saying that they do not currently have concerns about job security. However, we must acknowledge that almost 30% are worried about job security and importantly, recognise that the effects of managing the coronavirus outbreak might have long term implications for the in-house community. Helping in-house solicitors, some of whom are the only legal professional in their organisation, to access wellbeing resources and make the most of online facilities, are a key part of how we can continue to support members during this time.”