The most impactful legal expert at a large or publicly traded firm is referred to as the chief legal officer, or CLO. He or she acts at all times with a view to minimising legal risk within their organisation, by keeping its board of directors and other senior executives fully versed on any pressing legal and/or regulatory issues.
By Charles Edelstein of Executive Placements.
When being hired into a CLO job in South Africa, there are several key duties and/or responsibilities to which you will need to attend. These are:
Described by global corporate consulting firm Deloitte as “complex and demanding”, this is also a position where it is necessary to move seamlessly and with mastery between what they describe as “four faces”, masks, or hats.
When donning your strategist hat, you will be required to bring clear legal strategy to the table, such that it guides your senior executive team on the legal matters they need to navigate – while striving to achieve incremental business growth. Their trust in your abilities is critical, especially when the regulatory environment changes and you need to steer them through these changes before traditional business matters can be handled.
When wearing your catalyst mask, you will need to bring a legal telescope to the executive team’s decision-making process. This approach will help them to select a legally viable path forward; especially when they are in dispute. This stance is all about ensuring that you lead as you would hope others would follow – i.e. in a just and compliant manner. You can bring about much-needed change when wearing this mask, if you point to what pleases customers, adds value, and works in tandem with company values.
Then there’s the guardian face, in which you will point to legal and regulatory matters throughout high-level discussions, to ensure that your firm is able to mitigate risk at all times. Never underestimate the importance of this “face”, which is often mentioned in CLO interviews as being foundational to your future work. When operating under this hat, you will need to identify anything which could cause brand or reputational risk; and advise on ways to avoid this by employing your high-level knowledge of governance and corporate integrity.
Last up, is your operator hat – the one you will wear during your day-to-day initiatives for the firm. As an operator, you will need to run the legal department, hire the right talent and keep service levels high, while also managing costs (by negotiating on fees with external counsel). Under this hat, you should ask yourself questions such as: Do I have a viable succession plan in place? Am I happy with the key performance indicators we are using to measure the work of our external counsel? Is the technology we have in place streamlining all our legal department work? If not, a meeting should be set up with the chief technology officer (CTO) to unpack this.
The research carried out by Deloitte reveals that most CEOs and their boards are keen for their newly hired CLOs to focus on the catalyst and strategist “faces” (60 to 70 percent of their time); while the balance of their time should be spent in the guardian and operator categories (30 to 40 percent). However, the reality often means that they need to focus on the guardian and operator hats for some time, until things are running as desired. If it’s any consolation: senior CLOs often battle to synchronise their time allocation to meet the expectations of their CEO, and company board.
It goes without saying, then, that to thrive in this demanding executive job in South Africa, you will need to be persuasive; an excellent leader of people, and manager of time and budgets; and know the business environment in which you are positioned like the back of your hand. You will also have to transition, with skill and grace, between the four hats or faces mentioned above, as your influence within the company grows and solidifies.
An interesting read about the way in which the law differs from one nation to another, and the reasons why, can be read here. There are, for example, legal systems built on civil law, those built on common law, and others built on the religion of a region.
The authors advocate: “The legal systems of all countries, whether English speaking and Western or based on ancient religious laws, are determined by a combination of history, culture, and politics. Since no culture is set in stone, no country’s legal system is incapable of adapting to changes in political or cultural circumstances, or trends that affect the existing legal system and require change. As technology allows the world to become increasingly global, an interesting question is emerging regarding the nature of dispute resolution in the future. Will disputes be settled in a civil law system or a common law system? Currently, the European Union and the United Nations are working towards an international legal system, that bridges the gap between nations for international dispute resolution.”
This international legal system, once fully developed and agreed upon, should make practising law across nations and territories so much more seamless.