Dear Mr Steichen, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with AMCHAM for our Newsletter.
Amcham: Please explain the sequences of information that made you aware of the emerging Covid crisis in Luxembourg?
Alain Steichen & Evelyn Maher: Like most people we heard about Covid through news stories. Having quite a strong connection with Italy in terms of both clients and staff we were very aware of the emerging crises in that country and had an expectation that it would eventually spread to the rest of the EU.
What were your first actions in response to protect your employees, your law firm and your clients?
Our primary concern was ensure that our staff were taking care of while still providing top level service to our clients. Anticipating that remote working would become an imperative, our first concrete action was to organise a “test day” where everyone was required to work from home. The test day allowed us to ensure that those who needed remote access, had it, and that it was functioning correctly. It allowed us to take steps to ensure that any gaps were identified and solutions found to plug those gaps. It also allowed us to see who we needed to keep in the office in terms of a skeleton staff to ensure that our clients continued to receive the high level of service that they have come to expect.
Following the Governmental communications in mid-March the executive committee met again and the remote working plan was initiated.
How has your’ approach for managing this Covid crisis evolved over the period of this crisis and what management practices changes have you made to protect your company, your employees and your customers?
Ensuring our staff were protected and felt safe was our number one priority when we re-opened our offices after the first lockdown towards the end of June 2020. We re-opened pursuant to a strict covid policy, which involved limiting the numbers in the office, restricting access to the cafeteria and conference rooms and educating and informing on the proper hygiene measures. We are somewhat fortunate in that we have very limited open space so it was easier to maintain social distancing than might otherwise have been the case.
Since then our policy has evolved with the pandemic and with government announcements. We continue to allow teleworking on at least a part-time basis and always when necessary to limit the numbers sharing an office. Meetings both internal and external are still largely held by video conference. During the Summer we managed to hold a number of outdoor get togethers but as of yet are not encouraging indoor meet ups.
Flexibility has been key. Once we saw that remote working worked and worked well for most of our staff we have been able to retain a certain flexibility in terms of allowing those that need to work from home to do so.
What information guidance and support did you receive from the Luxembourg government, and did you find this sufficient and appropriately helpful? Was there anything else that you would have liked to have had from the government?
We paid a lot of attention to the Government’s guidelines as the pandemic progressed. We found the Government supported website helpful, as well as other as the guidance received from institutions such as FEDIL.
How did the situation evolve and what is the current business recovery status of your clients and your law firm in Luxembourg?
Fortunately, as a firm, we did not suffer unduly from the slowdown. While there was some impact, in particular in terms of new business development, we managed to continue to serve existing clients and we have seen a pick up in business in 2021 as the World gets back to some sort of normality. While we are not back to pre-pandemic levels of business travel and meetings we have been making tentative moves to meet clients and we see the same from the client side.
How have the needs of your customers evolved over this period of crisis and where are they today?
On the practical side we have had to adapt to our clients’ needs in terms of being able to communicate with them via their preferred on-line conferencing systems. In certain cases because of fears of the economic effect of the pandemic we have been requested to adapt or delay invoicing frequency.
On the legal side we saw a big increase in terms of questions around electronic signing, board and shareholder meetings being held other than physically and advising on applicable delays to regulatory filings. Of course our employment law team was kept busy initially answering questions about remote working, working conditions, chomage partiel and absence due to childcare issues as a result of schools being closed. We are still assisting clients in terms of changes to their working policies particularly as regards remote working.
As we continue to recovery how do you see the reality of the emerging “New Normal” on your business model?
We believe that video conferencing and remote working are part of the “New Normal” While of course the benefits of a face to face physical meeting cannot be understated, the time and efficiency gains of on-line meetings means that they are here to stay.
This will of course impact business travel and we believe it will be some time before we get back to pre-pandemic levels of business travel, if ever we get there.
Having seen that remote working works we believe it offers immense flexibility to our staff in terms of how they work. Of course it will need to adapt and evolve with the particular circumstances of Luxembourg and cross border employees.
From your perspective as a law firm, what have you and your staff learned and how have you changed your leadership and management approaches as a result of coming through this crisis?
The pandemic forced a changed in the mindset of how we managed the firm. Whereas communication would previously always have been via one to one physical meetings or team meetings we had to learn how to communicate with a team that was working remotely.
When the person is not in front of you it is easy to forget and to assume that they are fine. Learning to check in to ensure individual members of the team are aware of what they have to do, are aware that they can communicate with their managing partner and feel supported was and continues to be very important.
As a business leader operating in Luxembourg, how and in what ways are you optimistic and pessimistic for the future?
While the Covid-19 pandemic was a crisis like no other, there have been crises before and Luxembourg has weathered it relatively well. We are therefore more optimistic than pessimistic about the future. We are optimistic about both the Luxembourg government’s and financial sector’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Evidence of this can be seen in the way Luxembourg has proceeded with greening its economy and the steps taken to consolidate its position as a sustainable finance hub.
Please assess Luxembourg’s attractiveness as an international business location. Going forward, what are your perceptions of Luxembourg’s perceived Strengths and Weaknesses?
The things that have made Luxembourg attractive as an international business location have not changed. It is stable and has a business friendly reputation. It has an ever expanding toolbox of vehicles that can be adapted to investors needs and a well developed, mature and experienced eco-system in the financial sector. It’s a multi lingual environment in the heart of Europe.
If Luxembourg has a weakness it is size. The economy is small, open and still very dependent on the financial sector. It is therefore very vulnerable to outside shocks.
Dear Mr. Steichen and Mme Maher, please use this opportunity to pass along whatever additional advice and opinions you would wish to share with our readers.
Our advice would be to stay positive, remain optimistic, look after your team and the team will look after your clients.
Amcham would like to thank Mr Alain Steichen and Evelyn Maher for this interview!
BSP Partner Alain Steichen details here
BSP Partner Evelyn Maher details here