Coronavirus, Castell (responsAbility): «Home office is the new normal»

The Covid-19 pandemic is impacting the way people work across the globe. Jesús Castell, Head of Legal Debt & Restructuring at responsAbility Investments, has taken part to initiative «how are you coping with the pandemic?». Specialized on Banking&Finance and Corporate sectors with special focus on emerging markets, Jesús shares how his daily work routine has changed and how he expects Covid-19 to impact the way lawyers work in the longer term.

How has Covid-19 impacted your daily work routine?

On one hand, suddenly, everybody is working remotely regardless of their personal preference or situation. Home office is the “new normal”. Working remotely is not always easy, especially with children at home. Some lawyers may miss the possibility to print certain documents, which is difficult or even impossible to do at home, or access to books and thesaurus they were keeping at the office. Luckily, technology has made it very easy to communicate with others, especially with internal stakeholders, clients and external lawyers. On the other hand, and overall, in the current environment both the urgency and complexity of tasks have increased, making it more challenging, but also more interesting, to satisfy the needs of internal stakeholders and clients in a satisfactory way.

How are you coping with remote working?

I am a lawyer with responsAbility Investments, a leading impact asset manager active across the globe. Given the decentralized nature of our business, responsAbility has always attached a lot of importance to providing employees with remote access to all of its IT systems and tools. This has allowed us to work remotely long before Covid-19 made it necessary for each and every employee. As far as access to files and resources is concerned, there is therefore not much difference between working from the office and working from home. I can perform all tasks remotely without any problem and neither the quality of my work nor my efficiency are negatively impacted. I feel very lucky to work for a company that is so well prepared in this regard.

How does the situation impact you on a personal level?

The psychological impact is considerable, as working from home tends to make you feel quite alone. It is therefore very important to be in touch with your team and rest of colleagues on a regular basis. As a lawyer, I also find it convenient to have a suitable workstation and a well-organized working space set up at home. To ensure a separation between work and free time, I only use this space for work and try to stick to the usual working hours even at home.

What are the threats and opportunities this new situation presents for lawyers?

There is a lot of uncertainty because we are in unchartered territory and we do not know how the world will look like 6, 12 or 18 months from now. I therefore think that law firms/lawyers who are agile and able to adapt to new situations with a business mind-set and approach will have a critical advantage, while highly specialized or rigid firms/lawyers that are not very cost-efficient may find it more difficult to adapt to the changing world and clients’ needs.

Do you think the legal sector will change as a consequence of Covid-19?

I am convinced that in-person meetings, which are essential in the legal sector and profession, will decline at least temporarily due to this situation. As a result, I expect a considerable increase in the use of information and communication technology. The implementation of lawtech solutions, initiated way before the Covid-19 crisis, has definitely arrived to stay. At the same time, our profession is based on, inter alia, proximity, confidence and intuitu personae. Human contact and personal relationships are crucial in the legal sector, which is why I think that the core traits of the legal sector will not change, regardless of the effects of this crisis.

In your opinion, is there also an opportunity for in-house lawyers?

Opportunities always arise amid crises. At this point, in-house legal advice is essential for companies striving to get back to business normality as quickly as possible. The myriad of temporary relief measures that businesses have had to apply in order to keep up business as far as possible have raised many questions. Companies are putting the spotlight on their in-house teams, so now, more than ever, it is essential to support stakeholders and clients and think about new measures and processes to facilitate and make the business and our work more efficient. Those who are able to come to grips with this situation will thrive in this new environment.

Is there a particular idea you want to share?

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, in many countries and many people’s minds, working from home was considered as less serious and a somewhat lighter version of office work. With Covid-19, a lot of people are experiencing home office for the first time themselves. This shift of home office being the “new normal” will completely change the way home office is perceived, allowing both companies and employees to be a lot more flexible as far as working models are concerned.