Changing role of the corporate lawyer
The corporate lawyer has 'exalted status in the commercial world,' said President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), Nihal Jayamanne, addressing the Corporate Law Conference this week. A corporation's legal team is the most 'valuable asset a company can have,' he said. The Conference is organized by the Association of Corporate Lawyers (ACL), founded in 1987 and celebrating its 20 anniversary.
Jayamanne said more and more lawyers have sought employment in the corporate sector and this has made their role vital to economic growth and development in Sri Lanka. According to him, they have a duty to their employer, profession, country and social responsibility and their decisions should reflect these responsibilities. "Corporate lawyers must uphold the traditions and ethical standards of the profession."
President of the ACL, Malik Cader said there has been a paradigm shift in the perception of lawyers simply as legal practitioners in a courtroom. In the past, corporate lawyers were not given prominence but today, the situation has changed and is continuing to change.
"They are an integral part of the management team," Cader said. In-house corporate lawyers are knowledgeable about business, must prepare for a more active role as a business counselor and be abreast of new development in the field of law. Great importance is placed on the comprehension of business and knowledge of finance and accounting are essential to acquiring the necessary business acumen.
Cader added that they also need management skills if they aspire to reach higher grounds in their profession. The Conference had sessions on company, banking and labour law and some of the prominent speakers included K. Kanag-Isvaran, President's Counsel and Dr. Harsha Cabral, President's Counsel who spoke on the features of the new Companies Act and the implications to limited liability companies.
Kanag-Isvaran said the rationale for a new companies’ law was to minimize barriers to entry for small businesses seeking the benefits of corporations, to encourage efficient and innovative management of companies and to provide simple expeditious and fair procedures for realizing and distributing the assets of insolvent and defunct companies. He also explained that the new laws would not inhibit legitimate commercial activities, not place unnecessary limits on the ability of participants in enterprises and to make provisions for the possibility of rehabilitation businesses facing surmountable or temporary difficulties.
Kanag-Isvaran concluded by saying that 'where questions of abuse of power arise, even in the most extreme laissez-faire regimes, ‘we’ cannot have directors and majority shareholders expropriating corporate assets or riding rough-shod over minority interests or acting without proper regard to the legitimate claims or expectations of the company’s directors.’