Modern in-house counsel provide more than reactive legal advice and need to understand where their business wants to go so they can accompany the leadership team on the journey of building the business and achieving objectives and strategy, explained Narjess Naouar.
“I think there’s no denying we’ve completely shifted from a function focused on legal matters to one now covering a much wider scope of issues,” said Naouar, who has worked in the mining industry for 15 years and is now General Counsel for Moxico Resources plc.
Talking to Africa Legal ahead of Mining Indaba 2023, which is being held in Cape Town from 6-9 February, Naouar says this evolution of the in-house role offers challenges and opportunities.
“It’s now not just about advising on legal matters or managing legal risks, you’re expected to play a role in many other areas and think about strategically managing things such as reputational risk, cybersecurity and COVID-19,” she explained. “Another issue which I think is at the forefront of all sorts of discussions, conferences and everything is the topic of ESG.”
While the “constant expanding of the general counsel’s function” is a challenge, noted Naouar, it’s also a great opportunity because it allows in-house counsel to have much more input and influence on the strategic planning of their business. “Do you always want to be fixing problems, or do you want to prevent those problems from happening?”
Rather than in-house lawyers pushing for a “seat at the table”, Naouar says in her experience it’s been more of a demand from boards of directors and the leadership team for her to become more involved in overall strategy. A key prerequisite to being able to have meaningful input, she added, is gaining a proper understanding of the mining industry and the business they are part of.
That’s one of the many valuable things about Mining Indaba and the GC Forum, she commented.
“It helps me understand the issues my colleagues on the business side are dealing with, and by understanding that I can offer effective support,” Naouar said. “It helps set the context within which we’re all working and, rather than just being theoretical, it’s all very practical.”
For the mining industry in Africa, the ESG issue has been at the forefront in recent years.
“It cannot be ignored. It’s three letters that covers such a wide variety of legal issues and matters. It’s so expansive, and the ramifications are very, very important. We look at ESG implementation within the business, but then turned outwards are the continuously increasing levels of disclosure and how you communicate that to your stakeholders and your market.”
For Naouar, having strong values helps her navigate any stormy waters. She says that while many things evolve, she often thinks about four “timeless values that will apply at any point” and will benefit present and future lawyers: integrity, efficiency, effectiveness and openness.
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