As companies continue settling into new work environments and business patterns, their law firms and legal departments are being asked to step in on a variety of fronts. In many cases, these legal advisers are reinforcing their own teams with contract attorneys to help them address not only immediate issues triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, e.g., shoring up expertise gaps in areas such as employment and cybersecurity, but also longer-term matters related to contract breaches and corporate restructurings.
Some of the areas of expertise in particularly high demand are discussed below.
Employment experience. When employees were sent home to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses scrambled to get everyone set up with the technology and security they needed. If they remained open, they needed to look at their workplace through the lens of protecting their employees from potential physical harm. In each of these cases, employment policies and protections have come under intense scrutiny. Sound legal counsel is essential to getting it right.
Among other tasks, employers have amended or replaced their employee handbooks to reflect new protocols for work schedules, and approved equipment and security procedures as well as flexible solutions for employees who now hold caregiving responsibilities at home. Companies with a continuing on-site presence must also incorporate appropriate health screening measures and set out standards for workplace safety and hygiene.
These companies are calling in lawyers with employment expertise to help them rewrite their policies and handbooks; review, draft, and negotiate staffing agreements; and manage claims filed by employees. What kind of claims? Workers’ comp, OSHA, CARES Act—you name it. In fact, here is a partial list of the types of claims we are seeing in the employment space:
- COVID-19 exposure, such as workplace safety and health, and OSHA whistleblower claims
- WARN Act and EEOC claims related to terminations or furloughs
- Labor law claims with the NLRB
- Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) claims for paid sick/emergency family leave
- Retaliation claims
- Disability accommodation claims
- Wage and hour claims related to working from home
- Claims from nonessential workers who have been required to come to work
- Wrongful death and injury claims
The speed with which employers have had to adapt their businesses and policies has left many open to labor and employment litigation. Lawyers who can help them sort it all out are in tremendous demand.
Cybersecurity, SaaS, privacy and GDPR expertise. Working remotely has created a sea of security challenges for businesses, which are tasked with putting systems and processes into place to protect their data, networks, and employees.
For starters, as employees are now required to conduct business virtually, they are using communication technologies that may be new to them. They need guidelines for using these technologies securely and understanding any potential for data breaches or other cybercriminal activity. Without the stringent security protocols of their corporate offices, these employees may become far more vulnerable to scams such as phishing, which aims to trick them into exposing sensitive company data. Attorneys with knowledge and experience in cybersecurity, privacy, and GDPR law are in high demand as new policies and agreements are put into place.
Software as a service (SaaS) agreements have become a hot-button issue as well. Companies are increasingly turning to SaaS solutions to satisfy their software needs, and drafting these complex agreements to protect client interests requires specialized knowledge.
Niche experience. Fallout of the pandemic looks different depending on the industry, and so lawyers with niche experience are in high demand. In the financial industry, for example, companies are seeking additional help from lawyers versed in drawing up market data, credit and securitization, and consignment agreements. Law firms are looking for experience in investment management, private funds, asset management, and bankruptcy law.
Beyond these industry-specific needs, demand for complex commercial litigators is ramping up as breach of contract and other disputes are arising based on companies’ inability to fulfill certain obligations. We might also expect to see a growing need for real estate litigators as companies strive to renegotiate their lease agreements, and for M&A attorneys as strategic transaction opportunities arise in the wake of the pandemic.
Of course, in addition to offering support in these specialized areas, contract attorneys must also be technologically proficient. Automation plays an increasingly pivotal role within the law firms and corporate legal departments who engage such attorneys. Digitization helps organizations streamline processes and rein in costs; attorneys must be able to navigate databases and systems as part of their daily work. Tech-savvy contract lawyers will continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future.
Regardless of the legal challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, contract attorneys can provide businesses with a viable, cost-conscious approach to bolstering their knowledge, expertise, and experience.