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12 March 2020

'I have realised how powerful technology now is': an Italian lawyer's take on Covid-19

The lockdown is forcing Italians to embrace digitisation - and that even includes its public officials, writes Gabriella Geatti

Gabriella Geatti: 'Smart working and digital interaction have now been fully acknowledged as mandatory for public employees'

It’s a 9am start here in Milan; I check my inbox, make some calls to colleagues in preparation for the day's conference calls and virtual 'meetings' with clients. The day goes by fast, at its usual pace, emails are flowing in - both while I am on the phone, and as I go through some documents. It’s just business as usual... or maybe not. 

Yes, it feels like everyday business; but I am no longer in downtown Milan, at the historic 15th century premises of Palazzo Aliverti (now renamed Palazzo Legance), once a noble mansion, but now the seat of Legance’s Milan office. 

Indeed, today I am at my home, in an ordinary middle class residential neighborhood; instead of office attire, I am in my slippers and comfy home clothes. In the distance, I hear sirens wailing as a background noise. It’s another ambulance heading to the nearest hospital. I have sort of got used to this distressing sound.

In these weird and hard days for Italy, and in particular for the Lombardy region and Milan, due to the escalating spread of the Covid-19 disease, I feel lucky to be able to still do my job as a lawyer from home, with basically no impact or substantial limitation on my professional life in comparison to the one I was used to until a few days ago. 

Despite the stock market falls, business goes on. Actually, along with my colleagues, I have realised how powerful technology now is, given we can log in from home and work just as if we were at the office. I can have virtual meetings through applications like WebEx, pick up phone calls to my extension on my mobile through Jabber, share the same virtual desktop as in the office - and so on.

Personal interaction

All of this technology was already in place, so Covid-19 did not take us by surprise, but as Italian lawyers, who are very much used to personal interaction and spending long hours at the office, we were not always quite as aware of the variety of powerful tools which all at once made our profession a 'smart' one.    

The Covid-19 storm will leave a big mark on everybody’s lives in Italy, with the news anticipating a rigorous but necessary 15-day lockdown. Even though the world, as we used to know it, will probably no longer be the same; I am nevertheless positive the crisis will also bring us ahead into the future. 

As a lawyer, I am familiar with the challenges of dealing with Italian bureaucracy; as is widely known, such bureaucracy entails tons of papers and stamps, lines at public booths and the duty of one’s personal presence at the office for public employees who often have no accountability for measurable results. 

Changed mindset

The Covid-19 tsunami will most likely wave this off abruptly and force the Italian people and leaders into a powerful mindset adjustment. Covid-19 already has done so and will for sure give a further boost to the Italian digital agenda. Smart working and digital interaction have now been fully acknowledged as mandatory for public employees since last week in order to cope with the disease. Court hearings have been put on a mandatory stay by operation of law, but I am more than sure that this experience will make video hearings - which are provided for under the law but so far never enacted - a reality quite soon. 

I am confident of a positive global outcome out of the current Covid-19 outbreak for my country and my fellow lawyers, in a situation where we will keep on making our best efforts not just to do business as usual, but hopefully to do it better, 'smarter' and more efficiently than before. Personal interaction will perhaps become more of a dedicated choice than an unavoidable need, but it will increase the purpose of such a choice too. 

Such are my thoughts; it’s now time to join my virtual meeting room.  

Gabriella Geatti, a tax counsel at Legance in Milan

Further reading

Coronavirus risk may be unprecedented, but the fundamental principles of crisis response still apply

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