Fish On The Sidewalk | Above the Law

The morning after Hurricane Sandy hit Brooklyn, I turned on my faucet, drained my bathtub, and wandered around my neighborhood. Typically, Dumbo is bopping with tourists posing in front of our bridge for a famous photograph. But this morning, instead of selfie stick holding millennials, small fish scattered the sidewalks. My street was impacted, but it could have been much worse.

As I checked my office email, I breathed a similar sigh of relief. Our emergency plans had done what emergency plans needed to do. Generally, our people, servers, and things were safe. We were a fortunate mix of prepared and lucky. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for other places, companies, and people. Because sometimes no amount of planning can plan around a catastrophe.

Like bracing for a hurricane, as concerns over COVID-19 spread, in-house attorneys for startups are digesting information, assessing risks, making plans, and answering questions. Frequently, on top of the typical workload, the legal department is tasked with leading and coordinating with stakeholders concerning complex and risky situations. The team must provide tangible advice that goes beyond purchasing soap and hand sanitizer.

The pressure on the lawyers to make quick and thoughtful decisions in an unclear and changing world would be unbearable without formal and informal networks. In the past few weeks, generous and thoughtful in-house lawyers in my networks have shared, for example, response-plan templates, reliable websites and statistics, and work-from-home policies and resources. As well, there have been several lively debates on the topic of force majeure clauses.

As the New York City subways turn empty, it is comforting to have an inbox full of accurate, up-to-date information to keep the baby unicorns as safe as possible. We are a community. We have a duty to help each other. Remember to wash your hands and hooves. Be safe out there, little fish.

Sarah was the General Counsel/first Lawyer at Etsy and Vroom. She’s a co-founder of The Fourth Floor, a creator and producer of Legal Madness, an NYU Law School Engelberg Center fellow, a board member, an investor, and a speaker. You can also find Sarah hammering silver, eating candy, and chasing her child.

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