Legal Leaders in MENA
Lifting the lid on what is keeping legal decision-makers awake at night.
Thought Leadership Report
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of the profession
Welcome to the first edition of Al Tamimi & Company’s Legal Leaders in MENA report. We set out to explore what keeps legal decision-makers awake at night, with a view to digging deeper into the emerging risks and growing priorities that challenge and inspire our clients.
In the following pages we are proud to share the views of some 700 legal decision-makers operating across nine countries and 13 industry sectors in our markets.
All of these individuals have direct responsibility for legal issues within their organisations, and we are extremely grateful to them for sharing their views with us on their strategic priorities, investment objectives, the risk and compliance outlook and the role of technology.
As the global community gradually emerges from the catastrophic impact of the Covid pandemic, domestic and international businesses operating across the MENA region are faced with a new and dynamic reality. Countries across the Middle East and North Africa are moving to enhance and modernise their regulatory regimes to both attract foreign direct investment and better compete on a global stage, and companies must quickly make sense of the increasingly sophisticated requirements of doing business in the region.
At Al Tamimi & Company we aim to be a strategic partner for legal decision-makers, helping them to become a significant force in shaping the future of their business. We are not surprised to find that those we spoke to share our view that the role of the legal decision-maker is growing in importance, yielding greater influence on corporate strategy and taking an expanding business advisory role. We see the fast-moving regulatory environment creating a challenging backdrop to business, and we stand ready to support clients as the ESG conversation continues to gather pace and – along with technological innovation – increasingly impacts on the legal remit.
As we move through 2022, the MENA region as a whole is in a bullish mood, with investment high on the agenda. With the first World Expo ever held in the region recently taking place in Dubai, the appetite for its mission of ‘Connecting Minds and Creating the Future’ is being embraced. The Expo welcomed 192 countries to our shores – never before have so many nations and so many cultures gathered together to reimagine the world of tomorrow, with a focus on creating true and meaningful partnerships.
We hope that this report represents a useful contribution to the connected thinking of the legal profession in our region, as we all work together in pursuit of sustainable growth.
Legal enters the boardroom
More than half of respondents (54%) report that they have a seat on the board, or equivalent, while sixty percent now routinely advise the board on business strategy.
The regulatory environment needs decoding
More than half (51%) of legal decision-makers say sudden changes to regulatory policy are either challenging or extremely challenging.
ESG rises up the legal agenda
More than nine in 10 (94%) legal decision-makers occasionally or regularly assess ESG risk and compliance within their role. Eighty percent expect ESG considerations to become more important to their role in 2022.
Legal teams under the spotlight
The top three most pressing risk and compliance issues that legal decision-makers need to address in 2022 are new financial standards and taxation, changing ownership regulations and new health and employee welfare/employment standards.
Covid fails to deter investment
More than four out of 10 (43%) legal decision-makers say their companies are planning to increase future investment in the growth of their company, with 35% holding investment firm.
Africa is the choice for investment
Of the legal decision-makers surveyed who are looking to enter new geographies, 81% are looking to expand their operations in Africa. Almost half (46%) are looking to expand their investment in Southern Africa, 19% in East Africa, 18% in Central Africa, 16% in West Africa and 3% in North Africa.
Tech & innovation underpins growth
Nearly half (48%) of the legal decision-makers we surveyed increased their investment in digital capabilities in 2021 compared to the year before. More than two-thirds (69%) see business model innovation as important, while four out of 10 (39%) see innovation as core to their business.
Please note: Throughout, totals may not equal 100% due to rounding
The role of the legal decision-maker
The fast-changing regulatory climate and the growing importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are top of mind for legal decision-makers.
As expected, our survey of legal decision-makers in the MENA region illustrates conclusively how the role of the general counsel (GC) and legal decision-maker is growing in importance across the region. Ninety percent of legal decision-makers now advise on corporate strategy, and nearly two-thirds (62%) expect the GC/legal decision-maker role to take on a greater business advisory remit in the coming years. (see Fig 1)
Creating impactful change
Three out of 10 legal decision-makers say that identifying and enabling opportunities for business growth is their main priority, putting this element of the legal role second only to the management of employment issues, redundancies and internal disputes, and ahead of facilitating business in existing markets.
Mona Madi, Legal Director – Head of Legal & Compliance IMEA at retail and consumer brands business Henkel Jebel Ali FZCO, says: “There is always an emphasis on the importance of partnering with the business, helping them assess risks, trying to be pre-emptive in terms of those risk assessments and helping them to make prudent decisions.” She adds: “If we look at the changes that have taken place in the last couple of years, we can see that business priorities have evolved. There’s a lot more emphasis on creating impactful change and gaining competitive advantage. That has called for legal teams to provide more support on a strategic level, strategising on plans and on potentially contentious issues, and continuing to be a lot closer to the business.”
Urvaksh Doctor, Senior Legal Counsel heading the legal team for MEA at the US-listed multinational fintech company FIS, agrees that the pace of change in the region continues to enhance the role of the legal decision-maker. “Traditionally, in-house legal teams have always been seen as roadblocks rather than partners to the business,” he says. “At FIS we call ourselves ‘legal partners’ internally, because we are on board with the company’s stated objective of growth and instead of saying ‘no, you can’t do this’, we aim to say ‘these are your risks and here are our recommendations’ unless of course the proposal violates legal or company policy requirements.”
Two years after the start of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the need to focus on agility and resilience at a corporate level has impacted all businesses. In the MENA region, two emerging themes have strengthened the role of the GC and legal decision-maker: the fast-changing regulatory climate and the growing importance of ESG considerations.
62% of legal decision-makers expect the GC/legal decision-maker role to take on a greater business advisory remit in the coming years.
Regulatory change brings opportunity
The pace of change in MENA’s regulatory environment is rapid, with legal decision-makers across the region contending with updated laws in a wide array of areas – from data privacy and consumer protection to new labour laws, foreign investment and cryptocurrencies. Many legal decision-makers welcome the progress being made in the regulatory landscape and are working to capitalise on the opportunities on offer.
Amelito Mutuc is General Counsel (Business Development) at listed power generation and water desalination company ACWA Power, a national champion in Saudi Arabia. He welcomes the regulatory change taking place in the UAE and elsewhere: “All these regulatory changes are actually good for us, because we see them bringing the region in line with the Western world. We see it as forward-thinking and makes it easier for lenders, and borrowers, to set out the legal basis for whatever arrangements we are entering into.”
We asked legal decision-makers about the most pressing risk and compliance issues that they need to address in the region in 2022, and we found the top three to be new financial standards and taxation, changing ownership regulations and new health and employee welfare / employment standards.
Such changes put legal teams in the spotlight within their organisations. A legal counsel expert at a regional investment holding firm says: “Over the last few months we’ve had enormous legislative change in the UAE, where the laws by which we operate have been revamped significantly. There’s a new employment law, changes to the company law and new rules on data protection that will impact absolutely everything we do.”
They point to new legislation in Saudi Arabia also, and a new banking law in Egypt, as evidence that the region as a whole is evolving its regulatory approach, adding: “The winds of change are blowing.”
With so many changes on the horizon, there are bound to be challenges felt among the legal decision-making community. Our survey reflects this sentiment: More than half (51%) of legal decision-makers perceive sudden changes to regulatory policy as a challenge. (see Fig 2) New health and employee welfare standards are seen as particularly challenging, with almost half (49%) of the legal decision-makers we surveyed having difficulty keeping pace with new regulation in this area.
Jake Barnard, General Counsel at global advisory and educational management firm GEMS Education, agrees that: “Legal teams within the Middle East are dealing with an extremely high rate of change in terms of new regulations coming on board. From an in-house perspective, this means that core judgement skills have become even more valuable, as you deal with an increasing number of issues coming from different directions.”
The rate of change in the region is requiring new skills from legal decision-makers, he adds: “At times you may to push external counsel, and to question whether their advice is truly relevant, so that you can give more helpful opinions to your ultimate clients. This becomes more important the faster things change.”
It is not just new rules that need to be understood, but also how they will be enforced. More than five in 10 (54%) of the legal decision-makers we surveyed view unpredictable regulatory enforcement in the region as a challenge.
51% of legal decision-makers perceive sudden changes to regulatory policy as a challenge.
Fraser MacKinven, General Counsel at sports and events business Flash Entertainment, argues it is not so much regulatory change but rather its implementation that can create challenges. “Ideally, everything should develop at the same pace,” he says. “Sometimes one thing can shoot ahead of the other. For example, you might have the regulations being introduced without the relevant authority being established to enforce them, or without the necessary solutions being available to make the regulations workable in practice.”
Still, MacKinven is positive about the UAE’s efforts to update legislation in line with international best practice, noting music rights as an area particularly relevant to Flash Entertainment. He says: “The UAE rightly has a desire to identify where there are potential shortcomings in its regulations and address them. We are seeing initiatives that continue the UAE’s development as a first-class jurisdiction in which to do business. That’s a positive for our business.”
Legal enters the boardroom
The need to stay abreast of legal change is moving up the corporate agenda and is increasingly a board-level issue. More than half of respondents (54%) report that they have a seat on the board, or equivalent, while sixty percent now routinely advise the board on business strategy. (see Fig 3)
54% of respondents report that they have a seat on the board, or equivalent.
Goktug Seckiner is Managing Director and Board Member at Dogus Group, one of the largest private sector conglomerates in Turkey, with a portfolio including restaurants, cafes and construction companies. He says his business is evolving its approach on the legal side: “Whatever I am doing now – whether signing contracts with partners, entering joint ventures or negotiating with landlords – legal and compliance is playing a bigger role. My observation is that it is not just about needing more lawyers, or the involvement of more lawyers. On the other side of the coin, I feel that we need to increase the legal knowledge of our executives; that is going to help the business a lot.”
The growing importance of ESG
Another area growing in importance, and increasingly requiring the expansion of skill sets within the team, is ESG. More than nine in 10 (94%) legal decision-makers now occasionally or regularly assess ESG risk and compliance within their role, while eighty percent expect ESG considerations to become more important to their work in 2022. (see Fig 4)
Governments across the region are taking steps to improve sustainable growth across the region, with the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) accelerating the commitment to such plans. In order to reach its zero-emission target by 2060, Saudi Arabia has set a target of generating 50% of the nation’s power needs using renewable energy by 2030.
The UAE, meanwhile, has established the Abu Dhabi Hydrogen Alliance as it looks to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050, while Egypt intends to increase electricity supplied from renewable sources to 20% by 2022 and 42% by 2035.
With Egypt set to host COP27 in 2022, and the UAE hosting the summit the following year, the region is set to be a centre for climate change action over the coming years. This will result in more pressure on companies to comply with ESG regulation. Our survey shows that legal decision-makers based in Egypt are ahead when it comes to assessing ESG within their role – 40% regularly assess ESG risk and compliance factors, compared to the regional average of 33%.
Has ESG gained increasing visibility on your corporate agenda?
- It’s a slow burner
Captain Abdulla Al Hayyas, Acting Director of Marine Transportation Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, United Arab Emirates, says that the shift to less carbon-intensive energy sources, fuelled by international regulation, has become a priority in the region’s shipping industry. “Change is coming to the shipping industry. Ships are transitioning away from traditional fuel sources to environmentally friendly fuels, and the infrastructure needs to be in place to support this shift. Ship owners should be ready to implement any new requirement to ensure cooperation with both ports and fuel suppliers.”
Nasreen Bulos, Regional General Counsel for MENAT at HSBC, says ESG is a leading priority for her business, and she is upskilling her team to prepare for its growing importance in the financial services industry. “That is clearly a big area of focus, I think for every GC, but particularly in financial services. We need to keep updated on the latest principles, whether that’s in the green bond space, sustainability-linked loans or in relation to taxonomies.”
She also identifies an opportunity for legal teams to take a leadership role when addressing ESG issues. “It is an area where we are going to see a lot of rulemaking, and so there is a role for us in thought leadership around what might come,” says Bulos.
This change is reflected in our survey: four out of 10 legal decision-makers in the MENA region say ESG regulation is now evolving at a faster pace than their business can handle, with the same number saying that they respond to ESG regulation on a case-by-case basis. (see Fig 5)
This number rises among Qatari respondents, with 46% of the legal decision-makers we surveyed saying that ESG regulation is evolving at a faster pace than their business can handle – the highest across the region. The Qatar Stock Exchange (QSE) has been working on providing an ESG regulatory framework within the country, and recently launched its sustainability benchmark index for listed companies in order to identify companies with a strong ESG profile.1
Jake Barnard, General Counsel at GEMS Education, believes that ESG has become impossible to ignore. “ESG has turned into a subject that people can’t stop talking about. I think we are just at the beginning of how significant ESG is going to be, in terms of what investors, customers and employees will expect. Those expectations are likely going to outpace regulations for a while. If it’s not on your current agenda to really get to grips with ESG, it needs to be very quickly.”
Investing for growth
Companies are pivoting for growth post-Covid, with the region remaining resilient throughout the crisis.
Businesses prove resilient amidst the pandemic
With GCs and legal decision-makers increasingly asked to advise on business strategy, many are enjoying a front row seat as their companies look to invest for growth post-Covid. As the region emerges from a difficult two years caused by the impact of the pandemic, more than three-quarters (76%) report that their businesses are either stable or growing financially. (see Fig 6)
Businesses also appear optimistic about future investment, with 43% of the legal decision-makers we surveyed planning to increase investment in the growth of their business over the next two years. (see Fig 7)
A Legal Counsel expert at a regional investment firm says: “We have been very active, investing in $100 billion-worth of assets in the past two years, so we’ve not been slouching during Covid. Expenditure has gone down, the oil price has held up and actually increased a little, so there are more dollars to spend.”
In sports and event management, where 67% say their businesses have been negatively impacted, sometimes severely, by the pandemic, the focus is now shifting to growth. Fraser MacKinven, General Counsel at sports and events business Flash Entertainment, says: “We are very much in growth mode; when the pandemic hit, we used it as a positive and focused on our longer-term plans, developing some of our strategic initiatives so that we were ready when normality resumed.”
He agrees that the region has responded well to Covid, despite obvious challenges: “I certainly feel that, throughout the pandemic, the UAE has maintained a positive open-for-business, ‘can-do’ approach whilst prioritising health and safety. The FIFA Club World Cup is a great example, where Abu Dhabi stepped up and was able to deliver that in record time whilst ensuring that all health and safety protocols were followed. There is a desire to do things, but not at the expense of people’s wellbeing.”
Abu Dhabi has also recently signed a 10-year contract extension to continue to host the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix until 2030, further cementing the UAE’s position as a regional sporting hub. Saudi also hosted its inaugural grand prix in December 2021, with a brand-new street circuit constructed in record time.2
When looking across countries, legal decision-makers in Oman have the most ambitious investment plans over the next two years: 49% say they will increase investment in their business, compared to the regional average of 43%. Strong economic growth underpins this optimism, with the economy expected to grow by 5.8% in 2022.3 With its focus on achieving a sustainable and diversified economy, Oman’s 2040 Vision Plan promises further growth.4
49% of legal decision-makers in Oman say they will increase investment in their business, compared to the regional average of 43%
Prioritising strategic growth
As investment by companies in the MENA region continues, there is a focus on establishing new business models, hiring new talent and investing in technology and innovation.
Mona Madi, Legal Director – Head of Legal & Compliance IMEA at retail and consumer business Henkel Jebel Ali FZCO, says: “When we look across the India, Middle East and Africa region, there is always room to explore further opportunities. We are continuously looking at areas that perhaps don’t have such a huge commercial footprint, to see how to better optimise legal support in those markets.”
Many companies are looking at business optimisation measures that include working capital optimisation and cost reduction programmes, building new alliances and divestments. Indeed, optimising business structures is identified as the primary legal-related challenge facing our respondents, ahead of developing and enforcing risk mitigation plans and improving corporate governance.
41% of decision-makers in Bahrain say they are looking to invest in new technological capabilities in the next two years, compared to a regional average of 34%
In financial services, Nasreen Bulos, Regional General Counsel for MENAT at HSBC, says her business sees many opportunities for growth across the region, with a focus on investing in areas that include digital banking, wealth management and sustainable finance. “We see huge opportunity in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey. The growth potential of the region, which is home to many of the world’s most ambitious economic transformation programmes, is huge and the investments that we’re making in people, in digital, in products and propositions – and ultimately in customer service – should translate into significant new business over the medium term,” she says.
When looking across the region, Bahrain is most committed to investing in new technological capabilities: 41% of legal decision-makers say they are looking to invest in the next two years, compared to a regional average of 34%. Bahrain has taken significant strides in expanding its fintech industry in recent years, as seen in the establishment of regional fintech hubs such as Bahrain FinTech Bay (BFTB). Established in 2018, BFTB has become the largest financial technology centre in the Middle East, focusing on investing in advanced laboratories, business accelerators and educational opportunities.5
Africa is the investment destination of choice
Of the legal decision-makers we surveyed looking to expand into new geographies (22% of those surveyed), 81% are looking to grow their operations in Africa. That includes 46% who are looking to grow in Southern Africa, 19% in East Africa, 18% in Central Africa, 16% in West Africa and 3% in North Africa.
3.8% is the predicted growth rate for the economy of sub-Saharan Africa in 2022 according to the World Economic Forum
With a fast-growing population (estimated at 2.7% a year), a growing middle class, improving business conditions and an economy recovering from the Covid pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa is gathering increasing attention from companies looking to expand into new geographies. According to the World Economic Forum, the region’s economy is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2022 – more than twice as fast as South Asia (1.2%) and Latin America (0.9%).6 (see Fig 8)
Amelito Mutuc, General Counsel (Business Development) at ACWA Power, says: “ACWA Power is one of the Saudi national champions, so we have a development mandate to expand our market into new jurisdictions. We wave the flag by establishing businesses or projects in new jurisdictions and we have targets to open in a certain number of new places on an annual basis. Our latest target is West Africa and the focus of our geographic expansion will be on the renewable energy front.”
The road to recovery
The hotel and leisure sector is another industry that has been hit hard by Covid, with 66% of respondents working in the sector saying their business was negatively impacted, sometimes severely. But Goktug Seckiner, Managing Director and Board Member at hospitality business Dogus Group, says the speed of the bounceback in the UAE means his company is now back in growth mode.
Did the region’s resilience and ability to operate business-as-usual, through the pandemic, surprise you?
- I expected it
- I was surprised
“The UAE is one of the markets that has come out of the pandemic situation very quickly and the pace of recovery was much faster than we had anticipated,” says Seckiner. “We see particularly high-spending restaurants dominating the market in respect of the recovery. Since our focus is on the high-end food and beverage segment, we had one of our best years last year. Now we are expanding in the region – predominantly in Saudi Arabia, followed by the UAE and then Qatar. We are also looking for opportunities in Bahrain and Kuwait.”
Captain Abdulla Al Hayyas, Acting Director of Marine Transportation Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, United Arab Emirates, says that his industry is recovering from the impact of the pandemic. “We are seeing a lot of activities going back to normal after the pandemic, with the vaccine rollout helping countries to reopen their borders. We are also seeing less seafarer or abandonment cases – an indication that ship owners are able to meet their costs. Tourism is improving, oil prices are increasing and governments are investing in postponed projects. As a result, exports and imports are picking up, and life is returning to normal.”
Urvaksh Doctor, Senior Legal Counsel for MEA at financial technology business FIS in Dubai says his company sees particular opportunities in Saudi Arabia. “Saudi has long been an important market, but it is even more important now, purely because we are seeing a new level of sophistication and a desire to move to an open-market economy. The country is allowing more foreign investment and embracing companies like ours,” he says.
Expanding into Saudi requires navigating a fast-evolving regulatory regime. “There are new requirements coming in,” says Doctor, “with the most recent one being that by 2024 international companies must have a headquarters in Saudi in order to continue getting government contracts. We are looking at that pretty seriously and looking at the ever-evolving regulatory and legal landscape and advising the company, which is looking to us to be the first point of contact.”
He says Qatar is another market that will likely see escalating growth as it welcomes more investment from MNCs based in the UAE, and points to the Qatar Financial Centre as a leading onshore business and financial centre – located in Doha – looking to establish as a major trade and investment hub.
13% of legal decision-makers in Qatar expect to invest significantly in their business over the next two years, compared to the regional average of 9%
Our survey finds that Qatar is doing better than the regional average in terms of business performance – 48% of the legal decision-makers we surveyed experienced either single or double digit growth in the previous financial year, compared to the year before. This compares to the regional average of 42%. And businesses are suitably optimistic about the future, with 13% of legal decision-makers in Qatar expecting to invest significantly in their business over the next two years, compared to the regional average of 9%. Qatar’s long-term development plan set out under the National Vision 2030 is one reason for this confidence. The plan aims to diversify its economy, with a focus on infrastructure spending related to transport, education, sports, healthcare, telecommunication and hospitality playing a central role in the plan.7
Tech as an enabler
Technological change is revolutionising the legal landscape, helping legal leaders to better identify, measure and mitigate the risks facing their business.
Technology and innovation underpin growth
As the pandemic has escalated the pace of technological innovation and adoption in so many areas of life over the past two years, so businesses in the MENA region have identified innovation as a core driver of strategic growth.
We have seen digital transformation impacting the way we work, shop, invest, access healthcare and communicate with others, and today four out of 10 (39%) legal decision-makers in the region say that innovation is at the core of their business. A further 53% intend to embrace incremental innovation in their businesses as a means to achieve efficiencies.
Captain Abdulla Al Hayyas, Acting Director of Marine Transportation Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, United Arab Emirates, says that digitalisation is central to the shipping industry, with innovation in areas such as autonomous ships driving change within the industry. “Autonomous ships are a hot topic. The Covid pandemic highlighted the difficulties ship owners were facing during the crew change crisis, pushing ship owners to support the autonomous ships project. As most accidents are due to human error, the aim is that this innovation will reduce the risk of accident, casualties and insurance costs.”
More than two-thirds (69%) of legal decision-makers see business model innovation as important, while nearly half (48%) increased their investment in digital capabilities in 2021 compared to the previous year. (see Fig 9)
Financial services firms seek to innovate
At a sector level, more than half (52%) of legal decision-makers working in financial services consider innovation to be at the core of their business and central to growth, with the defence and security, transport and logistics and healthcare and life sciences industries particularly clear of the importance of innovation to their organisational performance. (see Fig 10)
In financial services, Nasreen Bulos, Regional General Counsel for MENAT at HSBC, says digital banking is a strategic priority for the business and so there is a focus on aligning the legal team around that.
Such innovation requires an upskilling of legal teams, often demanding a multidisciplinary approach from in-house lawyers addressing many areas of law. “You have to understand the product you are trying to deliver in a digital way and apply a variety of traditional legal principles to novel applications,” says Bulos. “To be effective, we have to be able to work in a multidisciplinary fashion. That is the biggest challenge: figuring out a way to bring together legal expertise of our various teams without slowing things down.”
Legal frameworks must keep pace with change
There is also a need for regulatory frameworks to evolve in order to keep pace with technological change. While 38% of the legal decision-makers we surveyed say that the legal framework within the region is supportive of technological advancements, a third still feel that it still needs to improve.
Urvaksh Doctor, Senior Legal Counsel MEA at fintech business FIS in Dubai, argues that while regional regulators may not be first-movers on digital banking regulation, they are able to learn from other jurisdictions: “The region may not be at the forefront of developing fintech regulation, but the advantage the regulators have here is that they are biding their time and then taking the best from other jurisdictions. They have the right expertise, are well staffed and will be able to come up with the right finished product, based on seeing what works elsewhere.”
Goktug Seckiner, Managing Director and Board Member at hospitality business Dogus Group, says: “We see a big role for technology in the restaurants space. The restaurants that have blended technology with visual arts and artificial intelligence are seeing a leap in what they are charging customers per head. When we talk about these disruptions, next comes regulation, as the legal side has a huge responsibility to implement an efficient market.”
He adds: “The UAE is one of the countries that is leading these developments. They are always ahead with using technology, implementation of the technology and then regulating the technology.”
According to Captain Abdulla Al Hayyas, Acting Director of Marine Transportation Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, United Arab Emirates, current legislation has not been able to keep pace with the growth of autonomous ships. “The industry is moving faster than the legislation when it comes to autonomous ship building,” he says. “Due to the lack of legislation, approval is given on a case-by-case basis.” (see Fig 11)
Tech in the legal department
Our survey finds that technological change is now helping legal leaders to better identify, measure and mitigate the risks facing their business, as companies in the region begin to embrace the use of technology within the legal function.
Nearly half (46%) say that they are currently investing in legal technology, with the majority focusing investment on data security tools, cloud-based databases and e-signing tools.(see Fig 12)
Mona Madi, Legal Director – Head of Legal & Compliance IMEA at consumer products business Henkel Jebel Ali FZCO, says there is a need to apply technology on a market-by-market basis. She says: “Electronic signatures, for example, can work in some jurisdictions, while in others we would not want to rely on those because in the event of a dispute the admissibility of those documents may be problematic. We do have tech-related initiatives globally when it comes to contract management and databases, and that’s definitely something we continue to look at. But we also have to assess the applicability to each market.”
46% of legal decision-makers surveyed say that they are currently investing in legal technology
At sports and events business Flash Entertainment, General Counsel Fraser MacKinven says his team had introduced several tech solutions before the pandemic that proved invaluable. “We had just implemented DocuSign, or electronic signing, before the pandemic, and also contract automation software that allows our commercial teams to develop their own basic contracts for the legal team’s review. We were able to do a lot of things electronically that might previously have required a lot of physical interaction.”
Has the tech revolution enabled you to become more efficient when collaborating, communicating, and carrying out daily responsibilities?
- Yes, it has
- No, it has not
- I am still getting used to it
He adds: “There is an obvious upside to that for the legal team, because as well as saving time and being able to get those urgent contracts in place properly and quickly, it also frees up our time to work on more complex projects where we can add more value.” He concludes by noting “the best result was that, when our contracts started to get stress-tested due to Covid (with cancellations and force majeure claims etc), they held up.”
Urvaksh Doctor points out that the US-based Chief Legal Officer for FIS, Caroline Tsai, is a huge supporter of automation. “She believes global law departments should embrace technology and automation enabling the team to strategically focus on higher risk and complex issues. By using contract automation processes, we reduce the time burden on the legal team to manually review contracts and that’s certainly something we expect to do more of in the coming years,” he says. (see Fig 13)
Mastering the legal
landscape of the future
As our survey shows, legal leaders across a range of sectors must learn to master unprecedented change across the MENA region.
The role of the GC and legal decision-maker is taking on a crucial role for companies across the region, as businesses play catch-up with a fast-changing regulatory environment and the expanding importance of ESG.
To navigate the current legal landscape, we believe there are four steps that companies should take to ensure that legal leaders are equipped to meet the new demands of the ever-changing legal landscape.
Upskill the legal team
New legal workstreams such as ESG and technological change require a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses a range of legal skills and demands far greater collaboration.
To meet the demands of the legal landscape of the future, legal leaders must learn to master a broad range of skills – particularly in regard to leadership, empathy and innovation. Companies must play their part in developing the skills of legal decision-makers and in-house teams, ensuring they are equipped to meet the needs of the future.
These skills will empower legal leaders to collaborate and exert influence across the company – providing powerful support to boards as they execute strategic growth plans.
Embed ESG approaches
As our survey shows, ESG has become a topic that is impossible to ignore. Legal decision-makers play a central role in the implementation of policies as internal ESG discussions transition away from corporate communications and into the realm of legal and compliance.
ESG risk and compliance now cuts across every aspect of corporate activity, playing a key role in project and transactional due diligence, featuring in loan documentation, impacting investment strategies and creating countless new legal obligations. Companies must increasingly take a whole-business approach to these risks and invest in the ESG competencies within the legal team to ensure effective ESG risk management and compliance.
Seize the technological advantage
Companies across the MENA region are recognising the power of technology to underpin growth and deliver business efficiencies. The same results can be delivered within legal teams if leaders take the time to understand and embrace legal technology in order to reap the rewards of innovation.
Our survey identifies a growing number of legal decision-makers using technology to help them better identify, measure and mitigate risks, while more organisations are embracing e-signing tools, cloud-based databases, document automation and collaboration technology in their legal teams.
These innovations are removing administrative tasks from in-house lawyers and freeing them up to focus on far more value-adding strategic initiatives. Many legal tech solutions were stress-tested during the pandemic and demonstrated their use cases in a way that suggests greater adoption is inevitable, presenting competitive advantages for early movers.
Invest in the legal resource
The pace of regulatory change in the MENA region is unprecedented as various jurisdictions move at speed to significantly enhance their legal frameworks. While these developments are to be welcomed and embraced as they strengthen the global competitiveness of countries across MENA, staying on top of new laws is challenging, and will require the strengthening of legal capabilities.
As the fast-changing regulatory climate becomes a boardroom issue, legal leaders must be empowered to exert influence at the highest level in their company. Investment in the legal resource as an invaluable strategic enabler will significantly strengthen the organisation’s ability to identify and mitigate legal, regulatory and compliance risk.
Thank you for reading our first thought leadership report. How frequently should this report be published?
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- Bi-annually (every two years)
The key findings from the report were brought to life by an expert panel, who are industry specialists from some of the region's key sectors. The discussion was moderated by none other than Richard Dean, Dubai Eye Radio Presenter and Public Speaker and our esteemed panellists included: Arturo Ortiz de Zárate, General Counsel MEA, IBM, Fauzia Kehar, Division Counsel, MENA, Citibank, Izabella Szadkowska, Partner, Corporate Structuring, Al Tamimi & Company, Jake Barnard, General Counsel, GEMS Education and Mona Madi, Legal Director, Head of Legal & Compliance IMEA, Henkel Jebel Ali FZCO.
The group's personal experiences really shed some light on the growing importance of the role of the legal decision maker.
With special thanks to:
Captain Abdulla Al Hayyas, Acting Director of Marine Transportation Affairs at the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, UAE
Jake Barnard, General Counsel at GEMS Education
Nasreen Bulos, Regional General Counsel for MENAT at HSBC
Urvaksh Doctor, Senior Legal Counsel, MEA at FIS (Dubai)
Fraser MacKinven, General Counsel at Flash Entertainment
Mona Madi, Legal Director – Head of Legal & Compliance IMEA at Henkel Jebel Ali FZCO
Amelito Mutuc, General Counsel (Business Development) at ACWA Power
Goktug Seckiner, Managing Director at Dogus Group
With over 30 years of experience and 17 offices across ten countries, Al Tamimi & Company is regarded as the leading law firm in the Middle East and North Africa. As a full service firm, we offer unrivalled expertise that combines international experience and qualifications with expert regional knowledge and understanding.
We specialise in advising and supporting major international corporations, banks and financial institutions, government organisations and local, regional and international companies. Our award-winning lawyers and teams are recognised by peers as best in class and while we continue to grow our business and regional footprint we always ensure that our clients are provided with quality legal advice and support to clients across all our practice areas.
Our main areas of expertise include arbitration and litigation, banking and finance, corporate and commercial, intellectual property, real estate, construction and infrastructure, and technology, media and telecommunications.
For more information, please visit www.tamimi.com.
How useful and insightful did you find the key findings from this report?
- 1 - Not useful
- 2 - Somewhat useful
- 3 - Neutral
- 4 - Useful
- 5 - Extremely useful
In the second half of 2021, Al Tamimi & Company conducted a survey of 700 legal decision-makers operating across the MENA region. All of the respondents take direct responsibility for legal issues within their organisation, and the sample covered individuals working across nine countries and 13 different industry sectors.
1 Gulf Times, ‘QSE to launch its sustainability benchmark by October’, June 2021
2 Motorsport.com, ‘How Tilke carved out a unique F1 circuit in record time’, Nov 2021
3 Oman Daily Observer, ‘Oman economy to grow 5.8% in 2022’, Nov 2021
4 HSBC, ‘Oman Vision 2040: sustainability to drive next wave of growth’, Apr 2021
5 Bahrain National Portal, ‘Investment in Innovation’
6 World Economic Forum, ‘5 priorities in Africa in 2022’, Jan 2022
7 State of Qatar National Communications Office, Qatar National Vision 2030
Al Tamimi & Company is the leading law firm in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with 17 offices across 10 countries. The firm has unrivalled experience, having operated in the region for over 30 years. Our lawyers combine international experience and qualifications with expert regional knowledge and understanding.
We are a full-service firm, specialising in advising and supporting major international corporations, banks and financial institutions, government organisations and local, regional and international companies. Our main areas of expertise include arbitration and litigation, banking and finance, corporate and commercial, intellectual property, real estate, construction and infrastructure, and technology, media and telecommunications. Our lawyers provide quality legal advice and support to clients across all of our practice areas.
Our business and regional footprint continues to grow, and we seek to expand further in line with our commitment to meet the needs of clients doing business across the MENA region.
Al Tamimi & Company © 2022