CSR: an increasingly decisive issue for corporate lawyers

For over 15 years, the French Association of Corporate Lawyers (AFJE) has annually published its Observatory of Legal Departments. Produced in partnership with De Gaulle Fleurance & Associés, the 2022 edition highlights, for the corporate lawyers interviewed, the increasing importance of the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR). “Legal departments must organize themselves to absorb this acceleration in the construction of a complex and evolving regulatory framework and better support their companies’ ecological transition strategy”, explains Nathalie Dubois, legal director at Fnac Darty and AFJE vice president responsible for University-Student relations.

Actu-Juridique: What has been the objective of the Observatory since its launch in 2006?

Nathalie Dubois : Legal departments evolve in increasingly complex environments and where everything is faster and faster. They must adapt in real time to absorb the inflation of standards and controls and meet the increasingly strong expectations of their companies to support global strategy, participate in the development of operational projects, contribute to risk management or even address the issues in observance.

The Legal Departments Observatory allows legal departments, every 2 years, to take a freeze frame and have an overall picture to gain perspective,” reference » and, thus, ensure that the trajectory of your strategic planning remains connected to the evolution of your great challenges. That is why it is essential that the AFJE is associated with this approach.

Legal News: What are the main lessons from the 2022 edition?

Nathalie Dubois: The 2022 edition confirms, above all, the regular progression of the position of the legal department, including in listed companies, since 35% of respondents are members of the executive committee or equivalent. We also noticed an increase in the number of controls that legal departments have to deal with, with one or more controls in the last 12 months per administrative authority for 53% of them. Finally, the big lesson of the 2022 edition is the growing place of CSR issues in legal departments. The Observatory’s results are particularly explicit in this regard.

Actu-Juridique: Do CSR issues represent the main concern of legal departments today?

Nathalie Dubois: CSR issues do not replace the other missions of the legal department, which remain equally strategic. They add to a field of activity that has been gradually expanding, which raises the need to strengthen the competences of the legal department to deal with these new issues. Legal departments must organize themselves to absorb this acceleration in building a complex and evolving regulatory framework and better support their companies’ ecological transition strategy.

Actu-Juridique: What is the impact of these issues on the performance of the in-house lawyer?

Nathalie Dubois: The in-house lawyer evolves in an environment where there is no longer a binary answer, nor a single lawyer with knowledge and global vision. To face this growing complexity, the corporate lawyer already collaborates with all the company’s internal audiences in a dynamic of collective intelligence. Cooperation is part of our day-to-day because we are at the heart of the company and we interact cross-functionally, daily, with our internal customers. These questions are, therefore, perfectly integrated into the historical dynamics of the evolution of the role and positioning of the lawyer in your company.

Actu-Juridique: Did Covid-19 have an impact on the activity of the legal departments?

Nathalie Dubois: The pandemic and the international crisis have been accelerating consciousness: “Doing good is doing good business”!

Until recently, the in-house lawyer acted mainly as a consultant, intervening mainly in the field of relations with co-contractors or institutions, or even in an internal process of continuous improvement of the company. From now on, with its involvement in major environmental issues, its role of mediation between the norm and the company increasingly concerns the common good, the general public and the city.

Actu-Juridique: What is the CSRD guideline? What will the impact of this directive be for legal departments?

Nathalie Dubois: The CSRD Directive (Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) on the publication of sustainability information by companies will replace the NFRD (Non Financial Reporting Directive) on the non-financial reporting of companies, to reinforce the European Union’s objectives in terms of sustainable finance.

The objective is to extend the NFRD requirements to apply them to all companies with more than 250 employees, improving the content of extra-financial reports: companies will thus have to communicate information regarding sustainability issues, climate change and assess the impact of the its activity in the environment and in society in general. The European Commission is thus creating a regulatory framework and a common language for all economic agents that will increase corporate responsibility, avoid discrepancies between national standards and facilitate a responsible ecological transition.

The impacts of implementing the CSRD can be very significant, not only on the companies’ strategy and the degree of involvement of their management teams, but also on the degree of commitment and the depth of communication with their stakeholders. The CSRD calendar has not yet been formalized but its first application is scheduled for 1er January 2024 (during the 2023 financial year). The role of the legal department will therefore continue to be reinforced around these issues, which will progressively become fully integrated and inseparable from the company’s activity and strategy.

Actu-Juridique: Are there trends for the future of legal departments?

Nathalie Dubois: This 2022 edition highlights the increasingly strategic and transversal dimension and positioning of the corporate lawyer and the need for companies, in increasingly complex and evolving environments, to integrate legal intelligence into their strategy.

Unambiguously, we can say that the corporate lawyer is a “sustainable” profession!

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