From the vantage point of our City law firm – usually based in our workplace in Moorgate, but now well and truly dispersed across all our colleagues’ home offices – with life under lockdown, no area of business activity remains untouched. In this article we describe how the pandemic and lockdown has affected Spencer West.
Perhaps the first port of call is employment law, as businesses are forced to reduce their employment costs to stay afloat. To what extent do firms furlough and how far do they need to take redundancy measures? We are constantly having to review businesses’ employment contracts to advise on the best way forward, comments Simeon Spencer, employment Partner at the firm, looking at what measures can be put in place to protect our clients.
Across the corporate commercial sphere, how the lockdown affects businesses depends vastly on whether they are internet suppliers of goods and services (some of which have benefited from increased sale), or they rely on physical interaction, where the impact has been severe. This is most obvious in the hospitality sector, notes Andrew Bird, corporate Partner at the firm. “Many of the businesses we act for are flexible tech businesses that are adapting quickly to work effectively in lockdown conditions and service the requirements of the new world. Those that adapt most quickly flourish.” Transactional activity has held up well, alongside advisory work considering force majeure clauses and the scope for relaxing contractual obligations in present circumstances.
The caseload in dispute resolution continues apace with a move to video hearings and use of electronic bundles in the courts and tribunals, comments Paolo Caldato, dispute resolution Partner at the firm. He warns that litigants should nevertheless expect delays, and be live to the risks that accompany rapid digitalisation. As a practical example, the senior partner of a leading English law firm involved in an ongoing high-profile financial markets dispute was recently required to write a profuse apology to the trial judge. His legal team involved in the trial had been caught in a “hot mic” situation caused by their mistaken belief that their Zoom connection to the court-room (and the judge) was muted. It was not; as a result the judge and (electronically) assembled media were treated to their frank comments on the performance of the other side’s principal witness and her allegedly questionable integrity!
In insurance law we have seen the impact of the Coronavirus leading to a spate of business interruption claims, comments insurance Partner Christopher Galyer, with lawyers debating the wordings to ascertain the extent to which insurance applies. The truth is that there are a multiplicity of policies that could be affected by the Coronavirus crisis and each involves a detailed review of the policy wordings, extensions and exclusions. It has raised the old chestnut of whether you need material damage in order to substantiate a business interruption claim.
Our private client and trusts Partner, Orchid Lee, notes that during lockdown, business owners have been seeking to ‘put their houses in order’, both on the corporate and personal front. Wealth planning is seen as a key component of survival. Clients are reviewing and updating their wills and trusts, including looking to offshore structures and planning for succession.
If you require legal assistance to support your business at any time, please contact any of the Partners mentioned above or Antoine West, Managing Partner at Spencer West LLP (firstname.lastname@example.org).