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A Conversation With: Marie K. McConnell, a shareholder of Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba in Allentown

LVB: How has COVID-19 impacted the way companies do business? 

McConnell: Workplace flexibility and the “Great Resignation” continue to dominate how companies are doing business. Retaining talent requires creative solutions, and we are learning that there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  

However, there are some key takeaways: First, working from home isn’t going away, but many employees remain willing and eager to come into the office. Some mix of in-person and remote work will be a fixture of most businesses going forward. Second, a strong culture that includes a genuine appreciation for your employees wins. Increasing salaries may keep someone for a little longer, but in the long run a strong culture cultivates loyalty. That starts with recognizing employees and making sure they feel heard. Third, a strong culture in a hybrid or fully remote workplace takes agile and resourceful leadership. A company’s leaders need to be willing to take risks and pivot if current policies aren’t working. Finally, a strong benefits package remains a priority for many workers. 

LVB: What are the major concerns in business law heading into 2022? What are some of the other legal concerns companies might look at in the near future? 

McConnell: Supply chain and labor shortage issues have exposed that traditional contracts aren’t always the best way to protect parties. A relational contract dictates behavior of parties who are reliant upon each other to succeed. The focus is on the spirit of the contract and the objectives of the relationship, rather than a strict interpretation of the agreement’s words. The goal is to foster trust and collaboration through a legally enforceable contract. This type of contract isn’t new but isn’t frequently used. Some parties are turning to a relational contract to address the unique challenges in a post-pandemic market. 

Cybersecurity will continue to be a significant challenge for businesses in 2022. As cybersecurity attacks shifted from “if” to “when,” companies must devote resources to preventing issues that can range from nuisance computer viruses to the loss of millions of dollars (or more!). These threats can be prevented through network security software, training and development of policies. 

Data protection obligations continue to expand. Outside vendors are continually developing new requirements for their business partners, just as states and other countries continue to adopt new laws addressing concerns. Compliance with a maze of overlapping and different requirements will remain a key area of focus in 2022. 

LVB: What should businesses do if there is a legal concern that comes up in the workplace? 

McConnell: Contact your lawyer. How a business addresses a legal issue when it first arises can significantly impact the ultimate outcome. Businesses shouldn’t only think of lawyers as a reaction to a problem: proactively seeking out legal assistance can pay off in a big way. The business that hires an attorney to negotiate an important contract will have better protections in place if something goes wrong and may be able to avoid a lawsuit. The HR manager who has access to a thoughtfully drafted handbook can better address employee issues as they come up. And the company that carefully thinks through its succession plan years before a sale or retirement can ease through the process when the time comes with less stress. 

 

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