In-house COVID-19 survey – summary of our activities in response to key findings

In spring 2020 we surveyed just over 200 of the largest in-house departments about their issues and challenges around COVID-19. Around one-third responded from the commerce, public, charity and non-profit sectors.

We have produced a podcast covering the main findings from the survey, key priorities for in-house and a discussion with two of the respondents.

Below is a summary of the actions we have been and are taking in relation to the key points raised in the in-house COVID-19 survey.

Support for your business

It was clear that many of you are experiencing an increase in workload – across members in commerce, public sector and non-profit organisations.

While you are still analysing the longer-term impact of the virus on your organisation, you may be concerned about business continuity. We have been speaking regularly to the Treasury, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Ministry of Justice on your behalf.

Many of you highlighted mental health and wellbeing as a main challenge, and this resonated across all sectors. Promoting and supporting good mental health and wellbeing for solicitors is a key priority for us.

We have a dedicated resource on our website for managers and practitioners including contact information for LawCare, a charity we partner with specialising in mental health and wellbeing for the legal community. Visit our mental health hub.

Day to day legal work when you are unable to access the office has also been a challenge for many.

Our guidance on how to consider the best work systems for your organisation aims to help you understand how the legal framework could apply to managing workforces while coronavirus poses a danger to the public’s health, and to consider what long-term strategic approach is best for your organisation before adopting new work systems.

Facilitating your ability to get on with business

You alerted us to several barriers to your ability to get on with business. We were already aware of these and are working to find solutions to some of them (we have given a flavour below). Others were new and we will work on them too.

Legal teams highlighted a concern about the lifecycle and execution of documents hindering the practice of many areas of law. These issues will impact on you and your teams’ ability to complete work without changes in law.

We have been in constant contact with the Ministry of Justice about the need for to change the legislation in relation to swearing oaths, affidavits and the virtual execution of deeds, especially for those required in commercial transactions.

We have been clear with government that ensuring that complex legal and business transactions are completed keeps money moving in the economy and fosters growth and that if transactions are not completed on time, this has a financial impact on organisations – with a potential knock on effect on the wider economy.

Read our latest practice note on virtual execution of documents and electronic signatures.

Other actions so far include: 

  • we have been speaking with the Land Registry about the need to adjust the rules which require wet signatures and have written with the City of London Law Society to formally request this
  • we welcomed the Land Registry’s announcement on 1 May that it would be relaxing its rules to accept Mercury signatures from 4 May and are updating our own practice notes on virtual execution and e-signatures
  • we called for government action to allow the parties to litigation to agree extensions to procedural time limits, which resulted in the new Practice Direction under the Civil Procedure Rules
  • we have been calling for HMCTS to stop serving hard copy papers, which require you and your teams to travel to the office
  • we have worked with HMRC to develop an alternative means of processing stock transfer forms while the stamp presses are closed
  • we’ve been liaising with stakeholders such as the MoJ, Home Office, Prisons Service, HMCTS and the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) to try to ensure that the best safety measures are in place for solicitors who have to attend clients in environments such as police stations, courts, prisons, hospitals and care homes
  • we’re engaging with stakeholder organisations such as the Legal Services Board and the SRA for guidance to help our members on regulatory compliance
  • many of you expressed uncertainty around the ‘new normal’ of returning to work and what that would look like - we will continue to canvass opinions on this topic so we can share how other in-house teams are tackling this and wider guidance
  • we launched our Return, Restart and Recovery campaign to support solicitors to return to their offices safely, restart the economy and drive the recovery after coronavirus
  • we published a submission to HM Treasury outlining specific measures the government can take which would help the legal services sector to achieve this mission
  • we published a practical framework on returning to the office summarising the government’s most recent guidance
  • we published a safe return to work toolkit, including risk assessment template for organisation evaluation

Rule of law

In the longer term, as well as continuing to respond to the direct challenges for our members and their businesses, we will also be scrutinising the impact of measures introduced to deal with the pandemic upon access to justice and the rule of law.

We will report back on our priorities and achievements in this area using the same channels as our other updates.