Roger Connon: Remote working comes of age

Roger Connon

Roger Connon extols the benefits of remote working as it looks set to become the new norm.

Remote working has come of age during the COVID-19 crisis and it will have a lasting impact on the way in which oil and gas lawyers conduct business. The pandemic has undoubtedly altered the mindset of corporate bosses who previously insisted that lawyers working for them had to be in-situ and “on the premises”.

Pinsent Masons’ Vario concept offers businesses a range of legal support, from paralegals to experienced hands at General Counsel level, providing flexible legal advice across the globe. Varios can and do work “in-house” on short-term projects and on ad-hoc/call off basis but can also carry out the work remotely.

A barrier to this freelance model was a widely held preference that corporate legal teams would typically want hired help to be sitting alongside them in the same office but I believe all that will change post-coronavirus when business returns to the new normal, whatever shape that takes.

In the past, remote working was something frowned upon by commercial teams who insisted that if they were adding freelance support to their existing legal resource, that the lawyer had to be sitting in the same room as their permanent team.

As a result of COVID-19 senior decision-makers have had to get the heads around a new reality, and have found that in practice remote working actually works very well. The emerging technology and the wide choice of communication platforms at our fingertips are now sufficiently good that the old arguments against it are pretty much redundant.

The potential cost savings for clients is obvious – a legal advisor working from home in Aberdeen, London or Sydney, for example, will not incur expensive international flights to and from the client’s HQ, and accommodation and living costs associated with their deployment are negated.

And there are other factors which underline the benefits. In a recent case, we attempted to place a lawyer with a major oil and gas operator in Asia, but the red-tape around securing a work permit and meeting immigration requirements for a six-month placement was proving extremely challenging.

The time and effort that went into trying to secure a work permit threatened to derail the proposed deployment but with an open-minded client and the technology we have available, we were able to demonstrate that Vario lawyers have the skill-set to take instructions in one jurisdiction and be able to deliver the project from another global location, and we successfully filled the assignment.

Another outcome from COVID-19 and the widespread adoption of remote working will be a widening of the available talent pool of freelance lawyers who can undertake work across the major oil and gas producing hubs. This is a potential game-changer, suddenly businesses are able to select from this significantly larger and stronger pool of talent.

Pre-COVID-19 a request to provide legal assistance for a Middle Eastern client with oil and gas assets in Iraq, for example, may have had limited appeal to, or availability of, Vario lawyers. But by opting for a remote working solution, a larger number of seasoned legal professionals became available to undertake this kind of project.

It may be that at the start of an assignment the lawyer flies out to meet the client, takes instruction, familiarises themselves with the business objectives and then returns to their home country to get the work underway. But equally, this can be done by video conference, offering substantial financial savings, not to mention the environmental advantage of not racking up unnecessary airmiles.

The global oil and gas industry will always have to take account of local laws but many of the commercial and legal constructs have global similarities, so oil and gas lawyers, in particular, are conversant and comfortable with going in to other jurisdictions and delivering the framework needed to get complex projects or transactions over the line.

There have been a number of reports by industry commentators who predict COVID-19 will herald the end of the modern office as we know it, with open-plan offices giving way to greater social and business distancing practices as part of a seismic shift in work culture.

Perceptions about home or remote working have dramatically changed, even in just the last few weeks, and it appears that our Vario offering is a model which fits extremely well with smart, forward thinking businesses who depend on continuity and cannot afford the disruption that a pandemic like COVID-19 imposes on operations.

Roger Connon is head of oil and gas for Pinsent Masons’ Vario