Updated: Feb 14
In what has been a highly unusual 12 months, how have you managed to retain some semblance of normality? What tools or strategies have you found particularly useful?
Working as a legal counsel in a regional role, we typically travel a fair amount. When asked to work from home, it didn’t really impact how we get our work done as we’re used to working with internal clients and colleagues remotely in any case. What has obviously changed is the reduced opportunity for face-to-face meetings, which I believe are still important. Saying that, I’m probably closer now to some of my colleagues than before, as I’ve been more intentional about scheduling regular calls rather than waiting to meet in person or emailing. Whilst I’ve been able to work from home reasonably easy- I have space and no young kids- I recognize that many in the legal team have had to multitask; they’ve had to run their household, school their kids and do their job, so I’m aware of the acute pressures they’ve faced throughout the year. I’ve therefore tried to be flexible in terms of timing of online meetings, looking at what’s urgent, and re-prioritizing as necessary. When working from home, the working day really stretches as there are no natural “bookends” to the day. Therefore, if it makes sense for a team member to take time off to look after their kids in the afternoon, for example, and make up that time in the evening, that’s fine. We can’t micro-manage how people do their work at home. They could be sharing a dining table to work from and have other constraints; we need to be conscious of that and be open to different styles of working.
“When colleagues have relatives and friends severely affected by the disease, that can also have an impact on their overall outlook. We need to be sensitive to how people are feeling and how that impacts effectiveness on the job.”
What are the key challenges your business has faced in the last 12 months and how has your Legal team helped to overcome them?
Our business colleagues have undoubtedly faced some of the same challenges as we in the legal team have. For those in sales and marketing roles or training or education roles, the challenges have clearly been greater for them. Nevertheless, I have been impressed by the flexibility that they have demonstrated, and especially in the training/education function they have effectively transitioned to online programs. The legal team has worked well with the business/functions to advise on the issues associated with the move online, and post-pandemic I can envisage that certain of these changes to online interactions will become entrenched. As for the legal team’s “business partnering” I feel that we’ve managed well in the circumstances. However, it will only be once we’ve come through the pandemic and we can have more face-to-face meetings, that we’ll see whether we’ve come though unscathed or whether maybe some relationships will require more work. Virtual meetings are working surprisingly well, but I do wonder if, in meeting virtually, we miss certain cues which wouldn’t happen if meetings were in person. In other words, there is value in being “on the ground”, walking the corridors, and speaking with people at different levels of the organisation to get a sense of what really is going on.
A learning out of the pandemic is the awareness that no matter where someone is based, they can work effectively as part of a regional or global team. We now have people in regional roles who are not based in Singapore (our APAC hub), and people in global roles who can now be based in Singapore for example, whereas previously they would typically be based at our US headquarters. This clearly creates career opportunities and advancement opportunities for colleagues no matter where in the world they happen to live.
Face-to-face communication is of course valuable for the reasons I have mentioned, but we’ve learnt that it’s not essential to get the job done. In future, we will need to be more intentional in deciding when travel is really required.
In a time of remote working and endless Zoom calls, what advice would you give to those managing Legal teams through this pandemic?
In the absence of meeting in person, online meetings are the next best option. Whilst the endless calls can be exhausting, frankly they are critical to staying connected, and in preferable to email/text discussions. Being mindful of when to schedule the calls is important and keeping them as brief as possible. Scheduling calls for 45 minutes will often be welcomed than going for the full hour (and shorter than 45 minutes is often better!). I am conscious that not everyone likes to attend via video, and that should be optional. For regular check-ins with each of my direct reports, I like for them to come up with a list of topics on their mind. That keeps the discussion focused, and yet at the same time there is always time to get to other issues that might not be work‑related. For online meetings with the whole regional team, it is important to have an agenda in advance, and to look for opportunities for all to contribute in some way. During this challenging period, my view is that we shouldn’t dwell too much on what’s happening in the outside world and what we can’t control. Rather, we need to think about what we can control and use the time to work on new projects and be forward-looking in how we as a function can improve our overall effectiveness. The other piece of advice is to have team members take time off work – just because international travel is not available as a holiday option (or is at least difficult) nevertheless time away from work is more important than ever.
What trends do you expect to see in the medical devices industry this year, and what will that mean for Legal?
The pandemic is impacting at different levels between and within regions, and business is being impacted in different ways. Some markets are poised to rebound quickly and for others it will take a lot more time. We’re seeing a lot more interest in the healthcare industry as a career option, whether in pharmaceuticals, devices, or diagnostics. This can only be good for the industry in the longer team. A view shared by my colleagues is that we can’t help feeling good working in an industry that meets the tangible healthcare needs of people around the globe.
Wherever you work in the healthcare sector, governments, payers, insurers, etc. will be looking to improved outcomes for patients in a world where finances are constrained. Governments have been pouring money into relief measures and healthcare needs, so there will be ongoing pressure to deliver effective but affordable treatments and therapies. This pressure will spur greater innovation and competition, which ultimately should lead to better outcomes for patients.
As to what this means for legal, we will have a key role to play in supporting our business colleagues as they shape their strategies to adapt to the changing environment as vaccines become more widely available and we move beyond the pandemic. I foresee a greater focus on new technologies and on data to prove efficacy, and the associated legal and compliance issues accompanying that. As mentioned, in terms of interactions training and education of healthcare professionals on safe and effective use of products, I see the shift to online learning gathering pace. The legal team will need to continue to work with the medical education teams to ensure that those programs are compliance with the relevant laws and codes across the region.
On the compliance front, governments are now more diligent in enforcing anti-corruption laws. Within healthcare, the industry has been working to collectively develop codes of ethics mandating compliant business practices, and I see that work gaining added focus in response to the new environment. This work takes place at the country, regional, and global level and ultimately is beneficial to healthcare industry and those who are reliant on the industry.
What are you priorities and objectives for the year?
In no order of priority:
Looking at our team structure to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the business.
Given we’re still in the pandemic, looking at how have the needs of the business, and the business strategy, have shifted and what legal needs to do to ensure we’re providing relevant and responsive services and getting in front of the problems where that’s possible.
Last year, we made significant headway in terms of remote working and different ways of collaborating. We want to ensure that we do not go back to what we were doing before but, instead, take the best of what the last 12 months has taught us.
Addressing geopolitical changes and shifts that will occur in 2021; getting in front of issues, being aware of the wider macroeconomic environment, and how can it impact the business.
Awareness of new and emerging compliance risks and developing strategies to mitigate those risks.
Utilizing new technologies to allow for greater collaboration, sharing and knowledge management, and more efficient provision of services.
Career development- people need to feel it’s worth their while working within this team and company. We want to give them the opportunity to develop their careers based on their talents and interests.
If you had to give one piece of advice to other in-house lawyers as they embark on 2021, what would it be?
People are relieved to see the end of 2020, but it’s important to be optimistic about what the new year brings! Whilst 2020 has been challenging, we should think how we’ve pulled together and looked out for each other. It’s important we remember the lessons learnt and build on them as we embark on the new year.
This article was contributed by Karishma Nair.
The leading global provider of flexible law firm-led solutions. Complementing the world-class services of Pinsent Masons, Vario builds flexible legal solutions tailored to specific business requirements and fulfilling the needs of a modern freelance community.