The role of in-house lawyers has evolved in recent years and general counsel can no longer focus on legal risks alone to help their businesses succeed in a rapidly changing marketplace, said an expert panel hosted by Hogan Lovells to discuss the industrialisation and growth of African markets.
In the first of a new GC Roundtable series, Samallie Kiyingi of African Export-Import Bank, Vivian Osayande of Novartis, and Wellington Chimwaradze of Unilever provided key insights in conversation with Andrew Skipper, Chair of Hogan Lovells Africa Practice.
The trio spoke of how their senior roles now go far beyond offering reactive advice and managing legal risk; instead, modern-day general counsel must be proactive, highly engaged with their business and seen as “enablers” of broader business strategy.
For Kiyingi, her role as general counsel goes beyond the expected high-level legal advisory aspects, to making various contributions as and when the business needs it. “What I do on a day-to-day basis, I think, is future-proofing the organisation: thinking strategically about the transactions we’re doing, the risks, the policies we’re pursuing, and where that will put the bank in the next five to ten years.”
She constantly asks herself: “Are we comfortable with the legal risk we’re taking on in order to enable the bank to continue doing what it’s doing?”
Likewise, Osayande, as Head of Legal for Novartis’ Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMA) Operations, and Chimwaradze as Vice-President Legal for Unilever Africa, regularly engage with the broader business and think strategically to advise the business on future directions.
When Chimwaradze “sits around the table with the people that run the business”, he sees his role as being a facilitator for what they want to achieve, not just a manager of legal risk. “It’s about identifying the issues, depending on what your business wants to do, understanding and appreciating the risks that might be associated with that. But even more importantly, it is also to understand the opportunities that might lie within those conversations.”
A key benefit of law school, said Kiyingi, is not just learning the law, but also learning to think like a lawyer – learning how to structure an argument, and learning how to find and analyse information needed to make decisions.
“As a general counsel, your job is to be a leader and to fundamentally make decisions, and to make those decisions it’s a combination of using your skills plus the technical knowledge that is available,” Kiyingi continued. “I always encourage the business to have a lawyer in the room at the beginning, even if there are no obvious legal issues at play, because the skills a lawyer brings and the questions that a lawyer asks help to provide a structured and strategic approach to problem solving.”
Osayande, Chimwaradze and Kiyingi also spoke with Hogan Lovells about building confidence with external counsel, the importance of leadership, business acumen and emotional intelligence, and the growing impact of ESG and climate change. “Beyond your corporate priorities,” said Osayande, “all of us have to be more conscious than ever as to the sustainability of our businesses and accountability for our actions.”
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