Change has come – do the right thing, right now

This really had to be a Covid-19 issue. As we return with our first issue of IHL since before lockdown began, we hope this finds you all in robust mood, ready to help guide your businesses through this latest patch of turbulence despite the post-apocalyptic headlines thrust in front of you on a daily basis.

The theme of this issue is rescue, support and recovery, which is why we have features on the role mediation plays in mitigating the effects of the Covid-19 crisis on businesses, the courts and the economy; how the employment law landscape has changed to factor in home-working and greater consideration for frontline workers; and how new legislation has torn up the rulebook for restructuring and insolvency to help UK Plc weather the crisis.

After speaking to senior in-house counsel over the past month, these themes are more relevant than ever. September saw us roll out our GC Powerlist UK 2020 online, some six months later than usual thanks to the intervention of Covid-19. Our team worked on the GC Powerlist pre-lockdown and sought to highlight legal functions making a major contribution to positive change or transformation, either at an industry or sector level: hence this year’s title, The Change Agenda. Little did we know when we came up with the title at the start of the year just how apt it would be.

In-house legal teams are acknowledged in the report for industry-wide initiatives, from collaborative efforts to tackle mental health and wellbeing and addressing law’s woeful record on diversity and social mobility, to GCs helping guide their companies through dramatic upheavals in business models. Others have overhauled governance and approaches to ethics, particularly with the rising number of GCs now assuming sustainability briefs, while some have influenced policy and legal standards for all of society.

Typically we have a reception every year to mark the launch of the Powerlist at the Legal Business Awards in March but of course this could not happen this year. Instead we hosted four webinars with our lead sponsor Pinsent Masons in October that featured leading in-house advisers from this year’s report.

What emerged from those discussions is just how focused in-house teams are even now on doing the right thing – at a time when you might expect attention to be purely on keeping the lights switched on for many businesses. GCs and company secretaries are reminding their boards of the importance of sustainability, good corporate governance, and ethics in everything they do and making sure that they walk the walk on these issues, while setting the highest standards themselves as an example to their businesses and their external advisers.

Even in these difficult times of homeworking and social distancing many GCs report that their focus has been on the wellbeing of their teams, not only in terms of mental and physical health but also their training and development. Indeed, some report the irony of lockdown enabling better leadership and mentoring – the absence of an office environment and wider acceptance of flexible working hours has to some extent levelled the playing field. This means that team members previously hindered by geographical boundaries and the artificial constraints of presenteeism have an opportunity to shine and GCs are spending more time focusing on those who may previously have lost out due to sheer physical proximity.

Whatever happens over the next 12 months, we are never returning to they way things used to be done. Change is top of the agenda and the profession is taking the opportunity to reset for the greater good of everyone.