Like organizations everywhere, law firms in Zuidas have faced some hurdles in recent months. How do they look back on this period? What sorts of measures did they have to take and what’s their view on the future? We put these questions to Rose Wiewel, COO at Simmons & Simmons.
What arrangements has your firm made as regards working from home versus at the office? COVID-19 was already on our agenda early on. Simmons & Simmons is an international firm and our people are important in every respect. I started sending near-daily ‘Corona Updates’ to the office almost immediately and am still doing that now. Initially, the measures focused mainly on hygiene, staying home in case of specific symptoms, the cancellation of international meetings and identifying and isolating colleagues in what were high-risk countries. To protect our people and the continuity of our business, we grouped everyone into blue and red teams alternating working at the office or from home. We had several teams practise working from home collectively so we could proactively resolve any issues that might come up. Consequently, when we decided to close the office and work from home, it was a smooth transition. Right now, around 30% of our employees are back at the office, which has been adapted to accommodate the new social distancing rules, working once again in red and blue teams. However, we’ve advised everyone who needs to use public transport to.
From what you’ve seen, has the coronavirus situation made clients anxious, or are people taking it in stride?
Because of COVID-19, businesses are having to deal with contractual obligations that can’t be met, investments and other plans that have to be delayed, paying employees despite no revenue coming in, changing laws and regulations and other factors that are hitting businesses hard. Most of our clients are active in healthcare & life sciences, financial institutions, asset management & investment funds and technology, media & telecommunications. Obviously, there are differences in the degree to which individual companies are affected, but these industries have been impacted less than some others, like energy, transport and tourism. In general, COVID-19 creates challenges for all businesses.
What kinds of questions are you hearing most from your clients?
Many clients have questions about employment law as it relates to their people and business operations. As you know, the government announced a number of measures and support schemes and our employment law team received many related queries. We’ve also had a lot work from home.of questions on how to interpret COVID-19 in connection with contracts, business operations, its impact on the M&A market, the measures and direction of travel of regulators and other governmental bodies. Aside from that, we’ve noticed our clients are thinking about further digitalisation, but also that restructurings are on the horizon. We shared much of this information on the COVID-19 section of our website, as well as through a large number of webinars, which clients really appreciate. There are also issues we detect before our clients and. in that case we call them to discuss those issues that aren’t necessarily on their radar yet. We have longstanding working relationships with many clients and they’ve come to expect and value our proactive approach.
How do you think the rest of the year will go?
That’s a tough question, especially with the recent new outbreaks. The spread of COVID-19 is hard to predict, so I prefer to leave that to the experts. For our clients, however, COVID-19 will largely shape their agendas for the remaining year. We’ll be discussing specific risks and opportunities with our clients even more regularly. Up until six months ago that was something we did at our well attended seminars, but also by regularly connecting in person. That’s harder now, of course, but staying very close to our clients will be more important than ever. We’re working on new ways of communicating to facilitate that.