Law firm to commercial law

There comes a point in the career of many a legal professional when the time is right to take the exciting plunge from a law firm into the commercial world. If this is likely to be your next move up the career ladder, here are the few of the most important legal trends to consider which may shape your in-house department’s activities over 2023.

Be sure to negotiate on external legal fees

In the global arena, legal firms are likely to put their fees up as much as eight percent this year, which could make managing those in-house budgets just a tad challenging. A work around could involve some kind of fair retainer for the outside legal counsel your department requires, thereby sidestepping their hefty hourly rate and benefiting the legal firms you work with by ensuring them a regular paycheck every month.

Don’t shy away from process automation

It is possible to streamline the efficiency of your entire department, and the work of any outside contractors, by implementing the best-in-class digital tools. A particular area in the legal niche, where process automation can make your work faster and more efficient, is that of contract management – shifting your legal department from a cost centre to a business-innovation driver.

Tackle data privacy compliance

Globally, firms must work hard to comply with a range of new data privacy regulations. As in-house legal department strive to make their firms compliant with these laws, so doing this will consume vast amounts of their necessary resources. It could be as simple as identifying what exact types of customer information a firm has on hand, and how that data is being stored. Making the suggestion that a dedicated individual is employed to take care of this aspect of the business could not go amiss.

In South Africa, where there are not just rumblings of data privacy regulations – such as the US’s not-yet-passed federal data privacy law – but where the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (POPI) came into effect properly on 1 July 2021, corporations of all sizes have been tasked with reviewing their use of personal information to determine whether it complies with the Act.

As one of the many legal jobs in high demand within corporate circles, it can feel daunting when you start to figure out what personal information a company processes and why; as well as to determine what information is no longer needed so that you can implement the steps needed to dispose of it in as secure a manner as possible. The recommendation is that you start with the easy wins, such as updating the basic documents used by the company or business i.e. their privacy policies and employer/supplier contracts. This is an excellent starting point in helping your employer to improve its POPI compliance.

Take on the mergers & acquisitions space

Although the current economic uncertainty could see this year’s M&A requirements slowing down somewhat from the US$5 trillion of 2021, big name firms are still going to need specialists in this area to carry out valuations and reduce conflict in cases where the performance of acquisitions fall short of an enthusiastic firm’s expectations. This is one of the legal jobs in which you will be tasked with keeping things real, in a time of volatile prices yet where M&A work could be central to corporate growth strategies.

Your M&A tasks within a corporate legal department could prove more diverse than anticipated – ranging from tackling compliance risks and consumer impact, to carrying out due diligence, and assisting with board conflicts and employee pay disputes.

According to Disrupt Africa’s “2022 South Africa Startup Ecosystem”, the country’s startup ecosystem leads the charge in exit M&As. This exciting space raked in US$52 billion (R760.8 billion) in the first half of 2021, with a total of 169 deals. Mature companies in South Africa are channelling increasing volumes of funds into the tech start-up space, with the most recent instances by strong and established companies including: Volaris’s acquisition of Adapt IT, Hyperclear’s acquisition of Principa, Impresa Capital’s acquisition of Gumtree, and TymeBank’s acquisition of Retail Capital, among others.

Let’s just say that you’re unlikely to regret this important and dynamic change in your legal career, despite the need to remain within in-house departmental budgets and what could, at times, prove a hectic workload. Good luck.


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