As of Q1 2021, vaccines have started to reduce hospitalisations in numerous countries, but global variations in vaccine manufacturing, distribution, procurement and adoption ensure that 2021 will be a year of patchwork ‘new normals’ worldwide. New, more infectious and potentially more robust variants may render COVID-19 endemic, further fragmenting governments’ response. Despite the prominence of the pandemic, other issues (such as Brexit and data protection) have also been notable within searches.

In short: the need for timely, quality and relevant information, available wherever subscribers need it, is likely to remain high throughout 2021 and beyond.

Here we highlight some virus and non-virus-related themes we anticipate will trend in 2021.

  • Brexit. December 2020’s Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the United Kingdom and European Union leaves key issues unresolved. What level of equivalence for financial services will the United Kingdom seek and obtain? Will the European Union deem the UK data protection regime adequate?
  • Data protection. GDPR-inspired legislation will continue to proliferate globally, while it is hoped that the United States and the European Union will agree a new regime for cross-border data transfers in the wake of Schrems II. The revised EU ePrivacy directive will be subject to additional changes during negotiations with the European Parliament.
  • M&A/private equity. Cheap credit, unspent capital, COVID-19 opportunities and rising equity prices in some sectors continue to drive acquisition and sale activity and deal strategies such as alternative financing, co-bidding, increased transaction insurance, and private equity funds outbidding strategic bidders.
  • Anti-corruption regulation. Investigation and enforcement activity is likely to increase as businesses start to re-open, especially in sectors negatively impacted by, or leading the response to, the COVID-19 pandemic, such as life sciences and pharmaceuticals.
  • Intellectual property. The pandemic has caused politicians to circumvent or question pharmaceutical IP rights, adding to calls for non-exclusionary approaches to protect investment in other ‘public good’ sectors, such as renewable energy tech. Counterfeit medical products, protecting consumer data/trade secrets and cost-effective IP protection measures are likely to remain hot topics.
  • Restructuring and insolvency. Governments worldwide rushed to adjust their restructuring and insolvency legislation to deal with COVID-19. It will be interesting to monitor feedback from practitioners, including those facing additional complexities such as the Brexit ’no deal’ in respect of cross-border restructuring and insolvency, and the other possible paths to mutual recognition of judgments (such as the Rome I Regulation, the Hague Convention 2005 or the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency).
  • Labour and employment. As economies re-open, employers will need to consider employment, health and safety, tax and data privacy issues, including the risk of indirect discrimination against unvaccinated workers. Other issues likely to attract attention include the status and rights of those working in the gig economy; the need for up-to-date diversity training to minimise #MeToo issues and resultant liabilities; and gender pay gap monitoring and reporting (supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals).
  • Merger control. Will the increased use of electronic filings and virtual hearings in certain jurisdictions under COVID-19 continue? To what extent will an increased focus on deals critical to public health persist? Where will the balance between competition, foreign investment, protectionist and industrial policy concerns be struck? To what extent will digital innovation and environmental concerns impact transaction reviews?
  • Sector innovation. How will the patchwork of national and international regulatory regimes develop to support rapidly evolving technologies such as fintech? What will be the commercial and legal output of the various regulatory sandboxes for fintech start-ups, and will the sandbox model be further adopted in other jurisdictions and sectors? What are the prospects for international agreements such the United Kingdom’s fintech bridges and other cooperation agreements with Hong Kong, Singapore, China, South Korea, Australia, the United States, Canada and Japan?
  • Dispute resolution. Many government-backed pandemic relief programmes are set to expire in early 2021, adding to existing financing, supply chain, workplace and compliance headaches occasioned by COVID-19. The number of disputes may well increase this year, arising from such areas as consumer protection, employment and pensions, export restrictions, insolvency, IT, M&A, and state support. There may be growth in online mediation, developments in the use of force majeure and analogous ideas in contracts, and forum shopping reflecting how much various forums remained operational under COVID-19.

Could you become the thought leader on one of the legal topics mentioned above? Speak to us today for more information on how your expertise could be leveraged in front of our targeted legal audience.