GCs & the pandemic: reflections on the year that changed everything

Richard Mabey, 18 March 2021

With a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic bringing the world to a standstill, businesses needed strong legal leadership like never before. How did GCs respond?

The role of the GC has evolved during the pandemic - especially if your business has been fundamentally reshaped by the crisis. How does this change the way GCs work, and the way they respond to unique challenges and opportunities?

And what does it mean to be a leading GC in 2021?

We decided to ask them in our latest eBook - GCs & the pandemic: how legal responded.

What's inside?

In this eBook, introduced by Daniel Glazer, Wilson Sonsini London's managing partner, we explore challenges and questions raised by legal leaders at some of the world's fastest-growing companies, such as:

Deliveroo 🍕

With the UK in lockdown, it fell on food delivery marketplaces to feed the nation. At the height of the pandemic, Deliveroo hired over 15,000 drivers to help with the increase in demand. We spoke to Chantelle Zemba, Deliveroo's General Counsel, about how the business' legal team helped keep drivers, customers and restaurants safe as demand skyrocketed. 

Zoopla 🏠

Millions look to buy, sell or rent property via Zoopla every month - so what happened when the property market stopped overnight? And how did Zoopla’s legal team support the wider business and its customers through these challenging restrictions? Amelia Guilfoyle, Zoopla's General Counsel, explains how legal got involved to help the business when the property market came to a shuddering halt - and then started up again without warning.

Secret Escapes ✈️

The travel industry is used to dealing with crises - but a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic is another level altogether. Find out how Secret Escapes’ legal team went above and beyond to keep the business going during this unprecedented challenge. James Russell-Jones, Head of Legal at Secret Escapes, discusses how legal's workload soon revolved around a single question: how do we get our customers home?

Revolut 💸

The pandemic presented both challenges and opportunities for fintechs. Confronting this uncertainty, especially as the business continues to rapidly scale, is a balancing act - how did Revolut’s legal team do it, particularly with foreign exchange hit by the global travel shutdown? Revolut's General Counsel, Tom Hambrett, talks about the balancing act legal had to adopt: mitigating risk in the midst of uncertainty, and supporting the business as it continued to grow. 

BrewDog 🍺

BrewDog relies on people gathering in pubs and bars - so lockdown created a commercial minefield to navigate. How did legal employ an agile and responsive mindset to help the business pivot? Richard Street, BrewDog's General Counsel, summed up the challenge perfectly: 

"We had breweries, international sales within global markets, and we also operate our network of a hundred bars globally, so we thought there was plenty of diversification. The outbreak really showed us that these streams were all related to alcohol. And because hospitality and socializing was such a focus for the transferral of the coronavirus, every aspect of our business was suddenly at risk."

Hopin 🎟️

Virtual events platform Hopin could have been built for this crisis - it reached double unicorn status in 18 months in a year. How did the company adapt to the unique opportunities of 2020, and what role did legal play in the company’s staggering hypergrowth? Irene Liu, Chief Legal Officer at Hopin, talks about joining the business in December 2020, and adapting to these unprecedented levels of growth - as well as the lessons learned from the pandemic, and what they mean for the events industry in a post-pandemic future.  

Download our latest eBook, GCs & the pandemic, here.

Trainline 🚅

What does a train and coach ticketing company do when trains and coaches stop running? For Trainline, the pandemic made a huge and immediate impact - find out how the legal team delivered for customers in an environment that was constantly changing around them. Neil Murrin, General Counsel at Trainline, details the challenges involved around the two biggest legal priorities: customer communication, and risk management. 

Stripe 💰

Stripe was uniquely positioned to help businesses move online, and even worked with the federal government to provide support to distressed parts of the economy. How did legal support these initiatives in such a challenging environment? Stripe's General Counsel, Trish Walsh, joined Stripe a month before California went into lockdown - and the unique obstacles this presented. 

The evolving nature of the GC

Three themes stood out to me across all the stories in this eBook, around the evolving nature of the GC’s role.

1. The GC as business partner. Now, more than ever, GCs have stepped up and delivered beyond ‘business as usual’ tasks. The pandemic seemed to act like a compounding factor in their day-to-day; when the crisis kept growing, GCs just kept going above and beyond to deliver expert advice and keep the business running. 

2. The GC as crisis manager. The trusted General Counsel is always one of the first people that colleagues turn to in a crisis. So it’s unsurprising that lawyers were at the heart of pandemic response - they lend not just legal expertise but commercial judgement to unexpected challenges and can solve problems under pressure. Although it’s a skill we hope lawyers can rest for a while post-COVID, it certainly adds an extra layer of value to the work lawyers do supporting their businesses

3. The GC as creative thinker. Perhaps the biggest realization during this pandemic is the lawyer’s capacity for creativity. Whether it’s creating a new real-time resource to monitor travel restrictions country by country, or supporting the business as it pivots to produce hand sanitizer, lawyers have been confronted with questions that simply have never been asked before - and answered them quickly and intelligently.

Digital-first GCs

Through these inspiring stories from resilient legal leaders, what have we learned about the General Counsel’s role, as they guide their businesses through unprecedented challenges?

Lawyers moved seamlessly to tech platforms too. None complained about remote working - indeed, our survey of tech GCs in January 2020 found that the majority want to stay at least half-remote, even once it’s safe to return to offices.

They also adopted new technology at scale - whether that was project management, task tracking, or contract automation. At Juro we saw some customers’ contract volumes increase by 300 per cent from one month to the next, as they migrated key commercial relationships online at scale.

When all this is over - or, at least, over to a degree we can live with - It’s exciting to think how post-pandemic lawyers will carry these new skills and experiences with them. Lawyers who can handle real-time cross-border regulatory updates whilst juggling commercial growth, or feeding health workers at scale, or navigating regulatory frameworks for hand sanitizer overnight, can probably handle just about anything 2021 can throw at them.

We’re looking forward to supporting them in this journey.

Download 'GCs & the pandemic: how legal responded' here. 

Topics: News

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