Traditionally, the in-house lawyer’s mandate has been confined to avoiding or minimising an organisation’s risk. Today, however, they fulfil a variety of roles, functioning as a ‘one-stop shop’.
“Ten years ago, in-house lawyers simply dealt with the legalese relating to business issues and weren’t expected to directly participate in the business decision making process. Now we are expected to bring to the table legal options that contribute to the achievement of their organisations’ broader business goals,” says Esionye.
Esionye, joined Lafarge Africa Plc, one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s leading cement manufacturers, and a member of the Lafarge Holcim Group, last year after a lengthy stint as an associate at the prestigious Odujinrin & Adefulu, where he developed and headed up the real estate and mining law team.
His primary duty in his current role, he says, is understanding the business, providing solutions and ensuring goals are achieved.
“It is important to maintain clear and seamless lines of communication with the various departments to ensure issues are promptly addressed and to avoid any situation which may lead to business disruption.”
In-house lawyers were charged with balancing commercial realities and weighing up risk factors that impacted different departments within the organisation in different ways, he says. It fell to the in-house lawyer to prioritise projects and deliverables.
While this could be challenging, he says, it came down to prioritising.
“Tasks that could cause interruption or expose the business to regulatory fines take priority over those which form part of the ordinary course of business operations.
“But this does not mean that tasks in the ordinary course of business operations are not strategic or diminish the importance of addressing the tasks,” he says.
As in-house legal teams grow, so too did the demands on in-house lawyers. Advances in technology, however, were easing some of the strain, he says.
And, as corporate business processes evolved in an age of hyperconnectivity, the in-house lawyer was emerging as a champion for change.
“The Nigerian information technology space has experienced tremendous development in recent years, resulting in a varied range of products and applications which make the life of a lawyer so much easier,” says Esionye, “Information which would have required strenuous physical research is now accessible at the click of a button. This has resulted in seamless and efficient task turnaround time, which is exactly what is required from an in-house lawyer in this era, where quick and efficient business decision making is required”.