In-house lawyers have complained about being inundated with irrelevant emails about COVID-19, RollOnFriday's poll of over 130 in-house lawyers has found.
Respondents were asked how law firms can best help them with the impact of COVID-19, and many said that they wanted to be given commercial, client-focused advice, rather than being bombarded with generic emails. "Stop sending bloody updates on Covid and the corporate governance act. I'd rather have a call and someone tell me what they think it'll mean for my company," said one. Another requested an end to the "45 emails a day telling me how to deal with the impact of COVID-19 and clogging my inbox." Another agreed, saying: "if I want help, I will ask for it."
"Focus on significant changes" said one, rather than the "scatter gun COVID-related invitations". They added that firms are "producing output for the sake of it because they're not busy, but many provide no answers and aren't particularly substantive." One in-house lawyer grumbled: "stop sending badly targeted updates eg. all the nonsense about force majeure." Respondents said that, instead, they wanted more training and webinars that were specifically relevant to their business.
"It has spread at an alarming rate - it started with just one email, now there's a COVID update every twenty minutes."
In-house lawyers said that they were under increasing time constraints due to the pandemic. "We're busier than ever," said one, "so any advice we receive needs to be prompt, pragmatic, clear and concise. We don't have time to read equivocal essays which always default to a conservative view."
Another said that "more so than ever", external advisers had to be "proactive with how they can assist me/the business". Adding "I simply don't have time to chase up poor deadline management from firms - this is the easiest way to get in my bad books and take yourself out of contention for the next instruction. "
Firms should be "succinct with their advice" and "mindful that workload has increased for many of us - we are doing business as usual, as well as Covid-19 work," said another.
Respondents said that in these difficult times, firms needed to take particular care to ensure advice was commercial and client-focused. One in-house lawyer said they had noticed a "stark difference" when instructing two firms with a "similar stature" on client insolvency issues. One firm had "suggested a commercial strategy that ultimately led to reducing our exposure by over a million pounds", said the respondent. The other firm "wrote us a pretty advice note that essentially said 'these are the relevant clauses of your contract and these are the relevant laws', but didn't actually propose any approach." The frustrated respondent said: "In-house teams don't generally instruct externals to be told what our contracts say, we're looking for the best way to leverage favourable outcomes."
Another respondent complained that they had paid £15,000 for advice on specific projects from a City firm on two occasions, but both times "we ended up not relying on the advice as it made recommendations that were outside the market standard and ignored our standardised contracting principles that we provided them."
A number of respondents pointed to their budgets being cut, saying it was essential for firms to be "innovative with their fee arrangements" and offer "flexibility." Others said that value-add services would be appreciated, with one respondent stating that secondees "at cost" would be "mutually beneficial as it helps us and allows firms to keep staff."
One in-house lawyer put forward a bleak proposition to firms: "Be willing to let profitability fall in the short term to ensure clients can survive".