VP General Counsel Strategic Projects
What is your specific role, and what does this entail?
I support strategic projects, both locally and internationally, with a focus on specific geographies. Strategic projects encompass all projects that are viewed as requiring direct and close involvement of the group’s headquarters, whether because of their size, their complexity, their strategic nature or their impact.
How is the legal team structured locally and globally?
Our legal team combines a dedicated local team in certain markets with a strong centralised team at the group’s headquarters. Team members typically oversee a specific geography (whether locally or from the group’s headquarters), and develop in parallel expertise in one or more specific fields for which they will become the go-to legal person globally.
What are the key challenges and opportunities facing your legal team at the moment?
As is the case with many other functions, our legal team must optimise costs and spending while addressing ever increasing demands for legal support, whether for compliance and regulatory matters or day-to-day interactions with customers and suppliers. In order to address these challenges, we constantly look into ways to improve the quality of legal support at reasonable cost, testing alternative billing options or relying on new forms of external legal support. This constant effort also pushes us to permanently revisit the way we do things, also creating room for new opportunities and refocusing of resources.
Are there unique challenges for your legal team in dealing with multiple jurisdictions or cross-border business? Do you have an international panel?
As a mining group active worldwide, we often face similar issues in the various jurisdictions in which we operate. As we all cover multiple geographies, we often have experience from other jurisdictions when facing new issues in a specific jurisdiction, and we can also easily draw on the expertise of other legal team members thanks to the relatively small size of the team. That being said, the specificity of national mining laws, combined with language and the requirement for strict compliance with local law, makes the use of local counsel indispensable.
How significant are legal issues in your company’s international strategy?
The understanding of the local legal framework for new developments, and the strict compliance with national laws for ongoing operations, are crucial, making the legal team a key partner in our group’s international strategy.
When would you typically enlist external counsel rather than doing the work in-house?
For countries in which we do not have in-house legal capabilities, we would typically look at first developing a basic understanding of the local legal framework internally, specifically using tools such as GTDT and building on the various team members’ expertise in similar jurisdictions. We would then quickly secure external counsel support if the matter develops.
For countries in which we do have in-house legal capabilities, the decision to enlist support from external counsel will typically be determined by the complexity of the project or issue, the risks associated with it and the availability of our legal team to handle the matter internally.
How do you instruct external counsel domestically and internationally?
Depending on the importance of the matter, external counsel is either instructed by the local team member against his or her day-to-day legal budget, or jointly with the group’s chief legal officer after discussion of the terms of engagement.
What are the key elements in making a decision about which external counsel to hire?
External counsel is typically selected based on expertise in a particular field, pre-existing relationship with the group, reputation and cost-efficiency. Depending on the importance of the matter, focus will be more on expertise and reputation, or cost-efficiency. In the case of new jurisdictions or new fields of practice, a pre-selection of potential external counsels can be prepared based on expertise from various publications and referrals from existing external counsel of the group in other jurisdictions or from other corporates.
What are your best and worst experiences in hiring external counsel?
In certain jurisdictions with a less developed mining industry, we have sometimes faced difficulties finding external counsel with sufficient expertise in mining laws who are able to respond to typical questions and concerns that we have in respect of the local mining law framework. In these circumstances, we have to develop knowledge jointly with the external counsel, bringing in our own input gained from our exposure to other jurisdictions.
What makes a great in-house counsel?
In contrast to external counsel who should be expert in a particular field, a good in-house counsel should be versatile enough to address the broad spectrum of issues faced by businesses today. A good in-house counsel should also know his or her own business and company well enough, and be pragmatic and creative enough, to either find or develop jointly with external counsel solutions that address simply and cost-effectively the needs of his or her own business and company.
- HQ Location: Limelette, Belgium
- Industry/sector: mining
- Year of foundation: 1889
- Company reach: 25 countries
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All statements and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual and not the organisation.
Published March 2017