Legal and regulatory requirements have a degree of relevance in almost all aspects of modern business. It is becoming increasingly important to have legal expertise, skills and knowledge available to support and take care of the different parts of a company’s business, operations and functions – each of which has its own focus areas and associated risks. In many ways, legal experts are there to help the business help itself, and could be considered one of the most crucial contributors to a sustainable enterprise.

Companies today see the value in having a trusted legal adviser – one who knows their business and operations, and who is not only a legal expert but also a strategic partner to and enabler of the business. Such a legal adviser develops close relationships with the various business stakeholders, getting to know their operations well in order to provide informed and well-considered support and advice. Legal involvement and input is important in helping a business navigate the numerous legal and regulatory requirements that may impact processes, procedures, management and everyday operations. Clients also want to take comfort from a company’s measured approach to their operations and service offering – and a company’s real consideration for the law.

The nature of a company’s business will determine what legal input is required. For instance, it may relate to employment and HR matters; the use of and contracting with third parties to provide goods and services; the offering of products, goods and services to clients or potential clients, and the framework within which to do so, as well as to engage and interact with clients and their information; the policies and procedures required and used to function; the premises, workspace, infrastructure (whether physical or IT) and other tools and systems utilised to run the business, operations and functions; the company’s brand and how it is being managed and protected; and the marketing of its business and offering.

Legal input and advice goes hand-in-hand with good corporate governance. This involves the rules, controls, policies and resolutions put in place to prescribe corporate behaviour that ensures the interests of a company’s stakeholders are managed and protected. A partnership is definitely required between the framework within which corporate governance is crafted, and the legal input and advice underpinning that framework, and which may prescribe or suggest some principles within which companies achieve the objective to safeguard the interest of share-holders, management, clients, creditors and the company’s regulators. Corporate governance forms part of the backbone of a company’s operations, in respect of which the provision of legal input and advice is important to assist in maintaining stakeholder confidence.

Despite the importance of seeking adequate legal advice, it does happen that companies overlook this, or perhaps seek such advice too late, after some or all of the risks or issues it could have avoided have already been realised.

It may be considered too costly or time-consuming to pause and relook matters from a legal perspective, especially if a matter is regarded as small in size and/or value. Unfortunately this could, in some cases, turn out to be costlier in the long run, insofar as potential legal, operational, commercial and importantly, reputational risk is concerned – when legal advice may then be required to deal with the consequences. Ultimately, using a legal expert who truly understands your business and industry will be an invaluable contribution to the development of the business.

Zandré Dick
Legal Counsel, JSE
Image: Hanlie Huisamen