In 2014 Brazilian corporate counsel realised they needed a space to discuss the unique challenges of in-house lawyers and launched the Jurídico Sem Gravata (JSG) initiative. Three years on LACCA catches up with some founding members to hear about the group’s success in bringing the local in-house community together to share ideas and best practices.
JSG, or lawyers without ties, began when a group of friends, all working as in-house lawyers, were discussing some common challenges and realised they lacked a platform to have these discussions outside their friendship circles. “Private lawyers have all sorts of forums to meet in, they have bar associations, associations of state lawyers and all the events that go with them, but in-house lawyers had nothing of the sort,” explains Flávio Franco, executive legal director for Latin America at online retailer Netshoes and one of the group’s first members. “We wanted that to change and to change quickly.”
Since then, JSG has grown from a group of six friends based in São Paulo, to a nationwide network of corporate counsel with over 600 members. The group arranges monthly meetings that offer an opportunity for local counsel to discuss common challenges and share tips, as well as providing training and educational courses for those wanting to gain experience and knowledge of the in-house world. Eduardo Nogueira, another JSG founding member and vice president and associate general counsel at logistics company DHL, says the overriding intention of the group is “to explore and spread a more dynamic, pragmatic and business-driven approach to legal work.”
Interaction in action
JSG’s members were determined to keep their organisation relaxed and informal; as a result they do not keep official membership or mailing lists nor prescribe set topics for discussion during their monthly meetings. “We have a loose agenda, and we know that in a given month people might want to discuss something that’s come up in the news, but we’re open to discussion on all types of issues where there might be a ‘best practice’ or anecdote we can share,” says Franco.
A typical complaint among lawyers working in Brazil is that the country’s legal system is bureaucratic, restrictive and not in-line with the increasingly dynamic pace of business in Brazil. So while the group exchange some of their personal professional experiences, their discussions focus on sharing general strategies in an open and relaxed atmosphere rather than discussing specific details of any company plans. “We are confident that there’s no conflict of interest involved in attending JSG meet-ups,” confirms Franco, adding that the informal nature of their gatherings supports this. “We meet outside business hours and are careful to explain to our companies that these types of engagements can actually benefit the business by shining a light on different ways to manage things.”
While it is relatively easy for lawyers in big cities, particularly in the corporate hub of São Paulo, to meet up frequently, it can be difficult to offer the same opportunity to those working in more remote regions, so the group set about ensuring it had an active online presence. JSG encourages interactive debate through its Facebook community and its members post regular prompts for discussions via their personal LinkedIn accounts too. The group’s virtual presence has not only facilitated communication between a dispersed group of counsel, but is has also succeeded in enticing a younger breed of lawyer to become involved with the community. “This organisation is very attractive to junior lawyers,” points out Franco. “They’ve grown up with communication technology and they’re very used to this level of online interaction.”
In the past, young lawyers were encouraged to join law firms after qualifying, as this was seen as a more prestigious career path to joining a company’s in-house legal department, according to Franco. He believes the JSG group is slowly succeeding in challenging this assumption. “The role of corporate counsel is changing, we’re taking more things on, developing our status within businesses and respect for us is growing.”
Indeed, Gianfranco Cinelli, a fellow JSG founder and legal director for Latin America at fertiliser manufacturer Yara, says that students at law schools rarely consider the option of working towards becoming a GC. JSG is hoping to change this by offering an educational insight into the in-house world. “Law schools don’t prepare you to act with a corporate mindset,” highlights Cinelli. “I wish I could have had the chance to learn about this side of the law from legal executives working within businesses.” The more this opinion was expressed during JSG discussions, the more the group’s members became determined to do something about it.
Knowing is growing
More recently, JSG launched several learning initiatives for lawyers lacking knowledge of the ins-and-outs of working within a business. One of the group’s biggest successes was its partnership with Insper, a Brazilian higher learning institution specialised in the fields of business, economics and law to design and deliver a course in legal management aimed at corporate lawyers. Franco coordinates the course himself on behalf of the JSG community, and numerous other members have contributed ideas for content. “We’re the ones who know what there is to know, so it makes sense for us to be involved in this way,” says Franco.
In addition to Insper, JSG has also developed a good relationship with another higher learning facility, the LEC, a compliance-oriented community that produces educational materials and offers courses for those in the profession. LEC has delivered courses on digital compliance, anti-corruption due diligence and ethics in healthcare since it was founded in 2012, but, in 2015 JSG enquired about its capacity to offer a more rounded course for corporate lawyers. After a year of negotiations the groups came together to roll out a Corporate Legal Management course that began in January this year. Key members of JSG including Franco and Cinelli formed part of the organisation’s learning faculty, while others conducted lectures and discussions on topics including crisis management, economic analysis and handling institutional and government relations. “Many elements of being an effective in-house counsel could be considered ‘unteachable’, because you need to live them every day to truly understand your role in business processes,” says Cinelli. “But we believe our own experiences as general counsel and heads of legal departments can really guide people in solving dilemmas and help to influence strategy. We outline best-practice approaches to building frameworks and prioritising issues and give corporate lawyers the necessary tools to apply our insights.”
Both the Insper and LEC courses are run on evenings and weekends, enabling even the busiest of lawyers to attend, and reflecting JSG’s insistence that legal development and interaction should be accessible to all. JSG already has agreements in place with its partner learning institutions to run classes again in 2018, and in time it plans to push corporate legal management onto the curriculums of more traditional establishments. “Law schools in Brazil are old institutions and very resistant to change,” says Franco. “We knew that changing the law school mindset would be a long-term project, so we started off with extra-curricular initiatives.”
“The courses were major achievements,” reflects Nogueira, who led LEC’s June class on incorporating creativity and disruption into corporate legal work. “But our major breakthrough has been engaging other corporate lawyers and spreading ideas. We just want to keep growing the community.”
Despite successfully reaching a steadily growing online audience, setting up courses from scratch and helping change the face of inhouse counsel in Brazil, JSG members are still looking for more ways to network, and have not ruled out the potential to take their vision abroad. “A lot of our companies are headquartered in Europe, the US and elsewhere in Latin America, and more and more companies are multinationals now. [Noticing this] has highlighted to us that borders aren’t borders,” says Franco. “We attend a lot of international events, and it’s important to us to have international associations too. Together we’re stronger.”