GDPR and Sapin II laws strengthen role of legal departments in France

A survey reveals the rising status for legal departments as French companies come to terms with new law and regulation.


French legal departments are gaining more importance as corporate counsel take greater responsibility for regulatory matters. The results of the 6th edition of the ‘la Cartographie des Directions juridiques’, conducted by LEXqi Conseil in partnership with Cercle Montesquieu and l' Association Française des Juristes d'Entreprise (AFJE), reveals the major causes are the new legislative and regulatory constraints due to the implementation of the EU’s GDPR in France, and the domestic Sapin II law relating to due diligence.

Leadership role

More than 66 per cent of respondents say they are part of a management committee of their company, up three per cent compared to the 2016 results.The report states 70 per cent of data protection work and 41 per cent of the GDPR programmes are led by the legal department. Likewise, 70 per cent of the Sapin II law programs are managed by the legal departments. On the duty of care, 59 per cent of companies entrust leadership to the legal department for implementing the requirements relating to the duty of care. Legal departments are changing from a support function to leading the pilots and managing these major programmes, according to Orange counsel Nicolas Guérin, who is also President of the Cercle Montesquieu. On compliance issues, the study shows that 73 per cent of legal counsel with oversight of this  function believe HR and financial resources allocated to Compliance are not adequately adapted to the issues. However, 60 per cent of the companies surveyed have a Compliance Officer, most often attached to the legal department, a reverse of the situation in 2016 when the same percentage stated compliance was attached to the company president or general management.

Data protection

As of May 25, 40 per cent of companies in the panel had already appointed their Data Protection Officer (DPO) and 50 per cent planned to name one, leaving 10 per cent saying they do not need to name one. Most DPOs are attached to the legal department (41 per cent) or to the general management and corporate secretariat (23 per cent). Over 85 per cent of the companies surveyed come within the scope of the Sapin II law and are committed to implementing provisions. Most companies also indicated they had set up an anti-corruption compliance program (85 per cent), with half of them using lawyers or specialised consultants. Over 75 per cent of the legal departments have initiated projects for IT transformation, main areas being electronic management of documents (GED), legal e-learning, electronic signature of documents and the automatic generation contracts. By 2020, 78 per cent of departments plan to continue to digitize the function or to begin to initiate it. The role of legal director is expanding from one year to the next, and remains international, with 70 per cent saying their scope extends beyond France.

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