Focus on Romain GERARDIN-FRESSE : One of the five best lawyers in the world.
Romain talks about how governments and businesses can be saved from the turmoil that the current COVID pandemic has caused. In our reflection, we look at the response of the world's various governments and whether or not a more unified approach to global governance is needed. We also look at the economic market's response to the pandemic and what that means for business and the future workplace. As a distinguished legal scholar, a member of the American Society of International Law, a contributor to the World Economic Forum's agenda, and a member of the Forbes Finance Council, Romain offers some interesting perspectives on the current crisis.
As a good lawyer, I have to say that I am quite frightened by the shift in thinking that I discovered last year.
There is a clear divergence between the governments that handled the COVID pandemic - they were either praised or criticized for their strategy. As you work with governments to develop governance strategies, what are the key elements you think governments should put on their list when developing a pandemic prevention plan?
This pandemic has, for the first time in modern history, presented a challenge that has been experienced universally. Almost simultaneously, the entire world was affected by this virus which induced very strong innovative elements and restrictions rarely considered, especially in the Western world. At the height of the epidemic, almost two thirds of humanity was confined, which was previously unheard of and somewhat unimaginable.
In general, governments have been quick to take into account, more or less, the economic impacts to the extent that they compensate for the impossibility or prohibition to undertake and trade, notably through the allocation of direct aid or via collateral support to the economy; but in doing so, the psychological variable has been considerably neglected, especially for business leaders.
The impact and the enormous emotional charge of these coercive measures on the population should not be underestimated. Even more so for entrepreneurs who, like everyone else, have to live with the restrictions of daily life, to which is added the weight of their responsibility towards their employees, creditors, bankers, as well as the fear of losing what they have invested in. However, in the measures introduced, there was little room for consideration for new small business owners.
There was also a problem of pedagogy in the measures taken by governments around the world. Infantilization doesn't work and leaving people wondering without giving them an answer creates misunderstanding. And when you add misunderstanding to uncertainty, you create destabilization and mistrust, feeding conspiracy theories and theorists.
Whereas in times of crisis, the most important variable to maintain to avoid chaos is trust.
For many governments, economic survival is at stake, but focusing on the economy has led to the failure of other aspects. What do you think will need special attention when the post-pandemic recovery begins?
As a good lawyer, I have to say that I am quite frightened by the shift in thinking that I have discovered over the past year.
In order to mitigate the spread of the virus, strong measures have been essential; this is obvious and justifiable. The risk is that with this regime of exception, especially in terms of reducing our individual freedom, it may end up becoming a permanent state. The danger is that psychologically we have become accustomed to being hindered, to having our rights reduced, and that we end up living with it, which is part of the "new normal".
This is revealed in everyday life and in the legal sector; the rights of the defense in trials are reduced and because of the derogations to the general regime, the right to a fair trial is terribly weakened, and we manage to make the litigant consider that it is in the public interest.
We have to be very careful that the exception does not become the rule, which I think will be a strong issue once the current health crisis returns to some point of normalcy; the past year cannot negate the decades of struggle for our rights and freedoms.
I also believe that 2020 marked a major turning point in the way we approach human resource management.
When developing an anti-disaster strategy, what aspects do you need to consider? Looking back, what did the pandemic teach you about developing such a strategy?
First of all, assets need to be secured. Second, consider suspending financial and contractual obligations, where possible, and preserving cash flow to offset the problem or organize an effective response.
This pandemic has been indicative of the need for resilience in managing day-to-day issues and, because of its duration and resulting restrictions, the need for contingency planning.
What do you want to achieve in 2021?
Strengthen our presence in Africa and Asia, developing the partnerships and agreements we have already initiated.
What has been your greatest achievement in the last 12 months?
Six nominations and six wins: best business law firm and luxury multi-family (LLSA); best business law firm and reputation counsel (Executive Global Magazine); banking and finance lawyer of the year (Business Worldwide Magazine); best prestige business law firm (Corporate LiveWire); strategist of the year (European Business Magazine); and, man of the year 2020 (The Global Investor).
How do you measure your success?
By the recommendation of our firm's clients to their close circle and business relations. And the best satisfaction is to be able to choose the new clients we want to work with.
Gfk Conseils-Juridis, which Romain founded in 2017, is present in Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Asia. Specializing in strategy definition, Romain has a strong reputation for solving technically complex cases, from M&A to restructuring to drafting legislation that contributes to legislative and constitutional changes.