Wednesday, 27 May 2020 18:35

Soft skills

When it comes to outsourcing work to external law firms, “there are certain ‘soft skills’ that bring added value to the relationship, and which are much appreciated by in-house lawyers,” according to Intercorp Peru’s associate general counsel José Enrique Frías Amat y León.

José Enrique of Intercorp“It is extremely valuable for us for the external lawyer to have an understanding of the business,” he says. “And it is also very important that they know the market, the context, and they are able to understand what are sometimes abstract contexts,” he says.

“We need them to help us to be enablers, to create together solid but versatile legal structures so that our businesses work, while also protecting our company,” he says. Intercorp is one of the largest holding companies in the country, a conglomerate comprising more than 25 brands, and with around 80,000 employees, engaged in the financial services, health, education and retail sectors, and which includes brands such as Interbank, Innova Schools, Inkafarma, Real Plaza, Aviva and Supermercados Peruanos.

“Intercorp Peru’s aim is to make Peru the best place to raise a family in Latin America,” Frías says. “We operate through four main platforms, the financial platform, which includes banking and insurance; retail, in which we have supermarkets, department stores, home improvement, malls; health, with pharmacies, and a clinic, which launched a few months ago; and education, with K-12 schools, technical institutions and universities.”

The in-house legal team at Intercorp is constantly striving to take on new challenges, to learn and to step out of their comfort zone, he says.

‘STRATEGIC PARTNERS’

He says the in-house team mostly covers mergers and acquisitions, capital markets and financing issues, and that the company chooses external law firms by inviting bids, based on the company’s needs and its budget for each project, and that it tries to forge a personal relationship with each law firm with which it engages.

“There can be times when an external lawyer does not form part of the day-to-day operations, but good communication between the in-house team and external firms enables such distancing to be overcome. Sometimes, external counsel can cause complications due to communication issues, or due to not taking into consideration the context when providing their advice; it is very important that an external lawyer not only knows and understands the law, but also the purpose of the project, the importance of technology and the value of the data, for example,” he says.

He also highlights the need for simplicity and clarity when seeking advice from law firms.

“The facility to communicate clearly is very important,” he adds. “We need reports from law firms, for example, that get directly to the point and contain analysis, the difference between receiving advice and receiving an entire book,” he says.

“We also use external firms when we are dealing with a particularly complex or specialised cases, for the insight they can provide.”

“We see external firms as strategic partners,” he says. “But we like to get stuck into legal issues too, and we always actively participate in all legal aspects of the company.”

“Readiness, specialisation and high time-demand tasks are often the reason to outsource legal work, although we have a very versatile team that is always involved in the core issues of the projects and that can turn its expertise to different themes.”

When it comes to choosing an external firm, he says that his team undoubtedly forges human relationships with external lawyers that transcend the professional level, and that kind of personal relationship benefits the business.

“A lawyer has to allow a business to flourish efficiently,” he says.

‘IMPROVING LIVES’

The company’s mission statement is to make Peru the best place to raise a family in Latin America, and to improve people’s lives, aims that, Frías says, are also shared by the company’s in-house legal team. “The idea of improving lives is something that we have present in our day-to-day operations.

The in-house team mostly deals with transactional work, and which takes most of our time, but our team is versatile and also seeks to accompany Intercorp in its development of new businesses,” he says. In that sense, the participation of the legal team in every aspect of the company’s operations is very important, he says.

“We are involved from the very beginning of a business’s inception, in the structuring and the negotiation, and during the execution of the business, and which requires loyalty, as well as involvement in and knowledge of the sectors in which we are engaged, and the know-how to use new technology, which has been a challenge to legal teams before now.”

He says that his team’s versatility is key to covering all the legal aspects of Intercorp’s businesses.

“Our work is not cyclical; we cannot predict it year-on-year, and many members of our team are dedicated to different legal aspects, such as finance, regulatory issues, technology, data protection, contracts, etc.”

Intercorp uses both local and foreign law firms. The company in 2018 acquired assets in Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia, and in those acquisitions the contracts were governed under the laws of New York, and in such cases it is necessary to use law firms with expertise in those laws, he says.

The in-house team also has to keep up with new developments, and, hence, needs to be knowledgeable in the legal, business and technological fields.

“We are working a lot more with data protection issues, for example, as well as tech projects and the new challenges that the digital world is bringing. We are constantly learning, and we have to keep abreast of what is happening in the legal sector, such as technology and regulatory changes.”

“It is very important that the internal legal team be versatile and is able to speak the same language as the specialist in each branch of the company, in each business,” he says.

“The nice thing about working in Intercorp is that everyone is constantly looking for new challenges, and we are willing to step out of our comfort zone, and we are constantly trying to improve as professionals, learning new skills, both in legal and business, such as technological knowhow,” he says.

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