In The Corner Office feature of CEE Legal Matters we ask Managing Partners at leading law firms across Central and Eastern Europe about their unique roles and responsibilities. In light of current events, the question for this online occurrence of the feature is: "How are you managing your team working remotely during this challenging period?"
“We do a brief meeting between partners at the start of the day as a good way to discuss the goals, challenges, or operating plan for the day. Besides daily communication with partners, lawyers, and team leaders, every two to three days we have a firm-wide report which serves as a state-of-the-business update. We have daily communication with the whole team and we use specific systems designed to give us a flexible and transparent way to organize our work with a visual scheduling interface and customizable workflows adapted to the unique way members of our team approach their tasks on projects, transactions, and/or disputes. We are using L2TP VPN because our priority is security. We chose this VPN because it has military-grade encryption, a range of protocols, DNS leak protection, and a kill-switch. Client support is also a crucial aspect, as we continue to serve the needs of our clients without interruption and in full compliance with confidentiality and IT system security. Having all of that allows us to communicate and collaborate no matter where we are in the world.”
Boris Savoric, Managing Partner, Savoric & Partners
“Almost all are working on a home-office basis in three different countries and various cities. The IT works extremely well, also Internet capacity has not been a real issue so far. We always have a partner and some staff in the office (which I am very grateful for), managing the thousands of small matters that still come in, but clients are aware of the situation and most of our contact persons are at home, too. I was glad that we were able to have two major signings despite the partial shutdown in Prague. But with borders closed, it is not easy, and we work more on PoAs than usual.
Videoconferencing (we normally use WebEx) is not in as high a demand as one would have thought. Once or twice a week we hold a partner videoconference and, once a week, we hold professional trainings – not least for social reasons.
The remote office we have been practicing for more than two weeks now also means daily control of timesheet, workflow, and cash flow. And, of course, we prepare for the time after the Plague – when our clients will have some different needs than before.”
Arthur Braun, Managing Partner, BPV Braun Partners
“As lawyers, we are used to working remotely for extended periods of time while on business trips, during weekends, or for other reasons. Therefore, for many of us the situation has not changed that much and we are using the same tools as before, but more frequently. However, I have noticed an increase in the use of videoconferencing on MS Teams and Skype Business. For the non-legal and all the administrative staff, the situation is different, as there are multiple workstreams that require physical presence (deliveries). Our IT has done a great job, and we can, therefore, continue to work with almost no restrictions (other than physical meetings).
It is very important to stay in close connection with all team members. We do an all-team meeting each week in which all the administrative and client-related issues are discussed. In addition, I speak to the other partners on a daily basis – very often several times a day. We encourage all team members to audio- or video-conference with each other frequently.
I receive reports on all relevant data (accounting, production, utilization) on a daily basis so that I can take care of any potential issues immediately.”
Johannes Trenkwalder, Partner Attorney-at-law for corporate law/M&A and energy law and Managing Partner Kyiv, RRH
“We have a group on WhatsApp for the whole team where we post professional updates and funny memes in order to keep morale up, e.g., we exchange our views on the ongoing stimulus package legislative process in Poland. This is a truly, constantly, and enthusiastically living platform of communication. We host video calls twice a week to catch up on current team and client matters. Currently, we use MS Teams, but as we are a fairly large team and need to see each other at the same time, we are planning to incorporate Zoom in our daily activities. We have virtual meetings with senior-level associates and above to discuss the status of sales initiatives, strategy, and recent wins. As part of EY Poland, the EY Law team acts in a very substantial role in posting materials on our COVID-19 website and is also engaged in a number of multidisciplinary virtual initiatives including webcasts, webinars, virtual workshops, etc. All these activities and the fact that we are trying to keep the whole team up to date on what we do keep our people engaged and positively energized!”
Zuzanna Zakrzewska, Managing Partner, EY Law Poland
“We at TGS Baltic are working remotely from our home offices, and we appreciate the modern technologies that enable us to continue providing comprehensive and efficient support to our clients. Our IT and administrative professionals provide support to colleagues on a daily basis so that everyone has access to and use of a variety of client-friendly software. We use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WhatsApp for team and client communication. At this point, it is important to communicate as much as possible and across different channels. There is a very good expression: “over-communicate with your colleagues.” This is what we strive to do in our office so that everyone can work together as a team and be able to support each other and help our clients.
Today communication is the key to a successful collaboration! #OnlineIsTheNewSharp”
Ivars Grunte, Managing Partner, TGS Baltic Latvia
"Our emergency remote-work plan has been shaped in practice as follows: I usually have day-to-day calls or video calls with the partners and senior associates via Skype, WhatsApp, or Microsoft Teams; video calls with the team members of each project are scheduled usually every two days via Skype or Zoom. All employees have VPN access to their work databases and the firm’s archive so that they can access all shared files any time and follow up with their current workflow. Communication with the clients is mainly conducted via teleconferences or Zoom. We have also set up an internal custom timekeeping system accessible by VPN to ensure that billable time is properly allocated.”
Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Managing Partner, Drakopoulos
“We have formed a COVID-19 team which every second day prepares a newsletter summary of new legislation adopted due to COVID-19 or governmental and/or public health authority ordinances. We use WhatsApp and conference calls to line up colleagues and clients together. We use G suite and/or Webex to share the screen to deploy work on document changes and production. We launched a clients' zone in our document management system to provide our clients with access to their litigation or transaction files on our server and DMS. Nevertheless, management of the work is now demanding and even more challenging in terms of effectiveness.”
Peter Vrabel, Managing Partner, Legate
“In view of the incoming measures we have upgraded our virtual private network so that each employee can access any amount of information without any disturbances. We have provided remote access to our database of electronic files to select representatives of each department who then support other colleagues with scans of original documents from the files. All employees had to install virtual meeting technology via the ZOOM application to be able to perform internal and external video conferences.
But despite all the technological measures, if a firm wants to be effective when all of its staff is working remotely, clear daily expectations need to be set and work organized within fixed timeframes so that it most resembles office time. Therefore, regular video meetings of departments are taking place for coordination of the work and, at the end of the day, each team member prepares a short daily report which is then reviewed by the head of each department. All partners then report to the management board of the firm on the general performance of daily activities. The incoming work can in this way be organized and supervised effectively. For coordination of work with clients, task force teams have been established, consisting of the head of each department and two associates from that department who effectively assist clients with urgent matters. The wider public is being addressed via video content published on social media and informative legal briefings on legislative changes and measures published on our website. By doing so we help build trust in our services as well as provide help and solidarity in times of crisis.”
Uros Cop, Managing Partner, Miro Senica and Attorneys
“It is very important to feel and act in a business as usual way. For this reason, I try to maintain the same working hours and routine that I had during my physical office presence.
I have a daily Microsoft Teams Directors/Senior Managers/Managers meeting either before lunchtime or close to the end of the day. During the day I make sure I am accessible to the team through all forms of contact, including WhatsApp, MS Teams Chat, and Skype Chat. Every two days we have an MS Teams full staff meeting, including paralegals.
Our infrastructure is fantastic and we already had a working-from-home policy. Now, these policies make much more sense. I involve more lawyers – even junior ones – in preparation of COVID–19 materials, assigning work on the different obvious aspects (employment, financial impact, privacy & digital, etc) to ensure they maintain their engagement and creativity. We exploit this time to compile credentials and better prepare ourselves to be competitive in the market. It’s a perfect opportunity for learning as well. For this reason, we do either internal trainings or ensure people subscribe to high quality online learning.
We also co-created a webcast series together with our EY Tax and EY Advisory colleagues to ensure a 360 response to client issues utilizing the EY webcast team in Germany and the tech capabilities of our platform. Material for this webcast series is generated by our lawyers following internal discussions on agenda and key topics. As COVID–19 is an unfolding and dynamic event, we have a Sharepoint site to ensure materials are always updated. Following up on the webcasts is key. For this reason, after every webcast, we make sure we answer all questions posed by clients and contact participants individually, assigning specific clients to individual lawyers.
Of course, client work continues. For this reason, we make sure all our lawyers reach out to clients to show genuine empathy. Again, I speak individually with lawyers to ensure we have a customized and human approach. When more senior lawyers have online meetings with clients, we make sure more junior ones have the opportunity to participate.
Finally, but most importantly, I make sure we are close at a personal level, discussing all problems and concerns and making sure the team goes through this phase in the best way possible.”
Charalambos Prountzos, Law Leader Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe & Central Asia (CESA), EY Law
“We are the largest domestic law firm in Central Europe and our priority is to be fully prepared to deal with crisis situations and to ensure that our more than 220 lawyers and tax advisers and 130 other employees are able to work from home as efficiently as from the office. This is possible thanks to our robust technology and other additional tools. We have technically enhanced our VPN, which now enables more than 500 users to connect. We have started using the TEAMS digital workplace as a new communication tool. Besides e-mail, this platform allows us to communicate by means of conference calls or videoconferences both in-house and with our clients. We have prepared (and regularly update) a number of manuals and tips for efficient work from home for our employees. In response to the emergency situation, we have formed a special work-group titled the ‘Corona Committee,’ comprised of senior partners and members of management. This group reviews all procedures and decisions made in connection with the COVID-19 crisis. We also make regular phone calls at the level of selected practice groups, partners, and counsel, where we share information about the current market situation and then inform our employees and clients of any fundamental changes and decisions. Our law firm and all of our employees have shown great fortitude, discipline, and commitment, which allows us to provide maximum support to our clients in these difficult times.”
Jaroslav Havel, Managing Partner, Havel & Partners
“We, at PRK, have the great benefit of being fully prepared to operate under these special circumstances. Over the years we have implemented a robust disaster recovery plan, which enables all our professionals to work from home, or any other secure place, and to connect to our systems using a secure private network. As a result, they have all documents, legal information systems and data are fully available to them as if they were in our offices.
Our offices are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, including videoconferencing capabilities, so that both our professionals and our clients are able to hold virtual meetings online.
In short, our operations have not changed dramatically, except that instead of face-to-face meetings we are holding virtual meetings, which also saves everyone travel time. If only the public sector were equipped in the same way, in particular, if our courts and administrative bodies were able to operate without interruption, making use of the same kinds of technology and electronic files. Sadly, this isn’t the case.”
Robert Nemec, Partner, PRK Partners
“The safety and well-being of everyone is, of course, our top priority. We started early and within a week had prepared all the formal procedures for the Warsaw office. These complex procedures regulate how our office operates, especially in the scenario when someone has to travel to and work directly from the office – and they are crucial not only for managing the entire office but also individual teams. Over 160 of our lawyers and staff are working from home and we never exceed 20 people in the office on any given day. Over the years, we have been very active in legal tech and innovation, so all of the modern tech solutions were already in place and working, although not on such an unprecedented scale.
Simultaneously, as the entire office transitioned into this new model, we continue to assist our clients with their ongoing transactions. The Warsaw Team is actively supporting our clients with all aspects of their operations and the challenges that are arising from this unprecedented situation – this also includes providing legal alerts, where we try to specifically target those interested in a given topic. We also have a local designated team which is part of the global GT COVID-19 Taskforce.
Additionally, our Warsaw Office has launched a special GT COVID-19 Pro Bono Program for micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs in Poland. Within the scope of the Program, our lawyers help entrepreneurs to implement the tax- and labor-related components of the “anti-crisis shield” as well as analyze and renegotiate agreements which they will not able to comply with due to the outbreak.
These circumstances are a challenge for everyone, as a law firm we have to continue to provide legal advice to our clients, this is what we know and do best.”
Jaroslaw Grzesiak, Managing Partner, Greenberg Traurig
“Remote work – business as usual!
We already officially switched to remote work on March 12, 2020, being one of the first major law firms in Ukraine – if not the first – to declare the corporate quarantine and introducing a ban on office time.
Having said this, despite switching to home-mode we actually haven’t really felt any difference and business seems to be as usual these days.
External and internal face-to-face meetings have very rapidly been replaced by seamless on-line communications. As the situation has been dramatically changing almost every day fo the last few weeks, we have been holding daily video-conferences with the firm’s management, partners, and project-teams to stay attuned and agile, to ensure that we are rapidly adapting ourselves to the new reality and meet the needs of our clients.
As for now I can say, that the firm has totally switched to the new mode and do not expect any interruptions, - the trial period is over!
Timur Bondaryev, Managing Partner, Arzinger