You’re an in-house lawyer. How do you deal with the novel coronavirus?

Lots of executives have been huddling, trying to figure out what to do as the COVID-19 virus spreads throughout North America. Many have or will have no choice: They’ll shut down operations. More than likely, the in-house legal department will be in on the decision and will have to deal with any legal fallout. Problem is, it’s new ground, and we don’t have a lot of precedent.

We’ve been looking around for advice, and so we turned to Sterling Miller, who writes the “Ten Things About…” blog. His advice, the result of years of experience in-house, is usually on point and well-written. We’ll summarize what he says about the crisis here; feel free to go to his site for the full rundown.

1.  Step up and lead!  If you want to know how the legal department can show its value to the business, leading during a crisis is pretty high on the list.  Lawyers are uniquely qualified to deal with the uncertainties, challenges, and general craziness a pandemic situation presents to any company.

2. Get accurate news/advice. Don’t get your news from TV. Stick to reputable print/web publications and websites for the Centers for Disease Control.

3. Take care of your employees. Communication is important and show respect and empathy. Review HR policies and modify or delete what doesn’t work.

4. Review your contracts. See what needs to happen—or not happen. Check out the force majeure clause. Does it apply to a pandemic?

5. Check your insurance. Determine whether any of your policies protect against the effects of the pandemic. Reach out to your company’s insurance brokers.

6. Litigation. The courts are wildly unpredictable. Some may shut down, some are behaving as though nothing unusual is happening.

7. Shareholders. Do you need to have a meeting? Can you do it virtually? You probably should say yes to both.

8. Talk the talk. Get your best writers out there, and make sure you’re all on message.

9. Working at home. Do you already have procedures? You should. If not, don’t wing it.

10. Finally, data privacy and security. There’s a bunch of considerations here, from financial to medical data. If you send an employee home, can you tell her colleagues? These and other data and privacy issues have to be sorted.

We know, as if you didn’t have enough to do. But just think: Working at home has given you a couple of hours a day to think about all of this. Stay healthy.

Leave a Reply