Legal Director – Sakhalin Energy, Russia
1. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?
Since March of this year, our Company continues to be on a High Alert Mode to ensure risk to health and safety of our people arising from COVID-19 pandemic is minimized and business continuity is maintained. This has meant that all our legal staff, like the rest of our office-based staff, has been working remotely since March.
Contrary to popular belief that workload of in-house lawyers has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a huge surge in our workloads during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing normal day to day legal support, our lawyers had to advise on COVID-19 pandemic related issues. In particular, we had to ensure compliance with new COVID-19 related legislation and guidance that witnessed constant changes and amendments, respond to multiple force majeure claims arising from COVID-19, and provide support to emergency procurement of equipment and for putting in place additional logistics arrangements, including chartering of aircrafts and contracting additional accommodation facilities for our rotational staff to be put in quarantine before they are allowed to go to and work on our offshore and onshore facilities.
Key positives of COVID-19:
The experiment of virtual working by lawyers forced by COVID19 pandemic has been largely successful, and appears to be a reasonable option to follow going forward, provided proper technology and systems are put in place to assist virtual working. It, therefore, appears that we may see many lawyers in the future shifting to remote working. Another important positive coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that organizations across the globe have now started to pay more attention to mental health and emotional wellbeing of their workforce. My expectation is that going forward mental and emotional wellbeing of people will receive the same level of importance as physical safety of the workforce.
Key negatives of COVID-19:
The key negatives of COVID-19 crisis are that it is creating social isolation, loneliness and stress as continuously working from home limits interpersonal connections. People continue to be stressed about their health, the health of their loved ones, the general condition of the economy, and how it may impact the future of the company and their own jobs. Lack of interaction between team members is generally demotivating. A video call lacks the personal connect we feel when we have face to face contact with our colleagues. The joys of social interaction around the coffee machine are irreplaceable and are hard to be replaced in a remote working environment.
2. Will you and your firm/company continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?
We have set up a cross functional working group to examine whether we could use flexible working in the future. The working group is keenly following the recent legal developments in this area, as current Russian Labour Code does not allow flexible working. The new draft labour law if implemented will amend the Labour Code, and will allow companies the opportunity to introduce flexible working (combination of office and remote working) for its workforce. The working group is also examining how we can maximize the use of IT tools to hold meetings and negotiations in order to reduce the need for personal meetings, movements, and travel of personnel.
When flexible working model becomes permissible in Russia after the new proposed amendment to the Labour Code is implemented, and our working group recommends flexible working, it will potentially lead to optimisation and reduction of physical office space.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis? What has been successful and what has been lacking?
Even before the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, there was already a lot of discussion on the implications of technology for the future of legal work. The future has arrived sooner than anticipated as we were forced to shift to remote working in order to contain the transmission of COVID-19, dramatically changing how we work. Many in house legal departments have started taking small steps in the use of technology. Remote virtual meetings are now commonplace, and they work well. Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, we have conducted all our Board of Directors meetings and Supervisory Board meetings very efficiently albeit virtually. We have also successfully used electronic signatures during the pandemic. We have also recently automated our Manual of Authorities process. This automation has allowed us to have control over the Power of Attorney management process and its validity tracking.
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
I do expect that COVID-19 crisis will accelerate use of technology in the legal industry as well as the in-house legal function as legal budgets will be cut and lawyers will be expected to do more with less. I, however, expect that in the near future only incremental improvements will be made to existing technologies used by the in-house function in area of like e-discovery, digitalization and litigation matter management etc.
In the long term in-house, legal teams cannot remain immune to technological disruption. Low value repetitive work will be shifted to automation and machine learning leaving more core and more complex legal work for lawyers.
5. Has your firm/company changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm/company consider using a “Keystone” fee-sharing or hybrid remuneration model in future?
Remuneration of legal staff in Sakhalin Energy has not been changed.
6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years’ time.
To predict the future is always difficult. But if I must pick one area that will be different in 10 years in the legal profession, then I would say that billing by the hour, which currently is the most common form of billing by law firms, will cease to exist. Law firms to be able to survive in the future will have to create new legal fee structure that would reduce the cost of legal services by becoming more efficient and by optimizing work by use of technologies.