International Legal Registers – What’s the Problem?

For any organisation implementing ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 or ISO 50001 on a multi-jurisdictional basis, international standardisation of the enabling tool-set that supports the operation of the standard(s) should be a consideration.  Management systems are implemented both to create a focused commitment to quality, as well as to provide the corporate centre assurance that good practice is in place across all jurisdictions.

A key tool within these management systems is the legal register, enabling compliance with clause 4.3.2 (14001; 18001).  Closely linked are clauses 4.5.2 (14001), 4.3.2 (18001) and 4.6.2 (50001), requiring on-going evaluation of the levels of compliance with the relevant legislation.  Whilst the legal register and on-going compliance assessment is a requirement under the standards, there is significant practical value to the corporate in ensuring that each jurisdiction is doing a good job from a ­business risk perspective.

When gathering up business units and assessing existing approaches to meeting these clauses, the corporate centre may decide to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and accept that for units where certification is already being achieved there is little value in changing existing approaches.  However, there are also a number of arguments for taking a standardised approach – the most significant of which is the assurance that if a standard approach is taken a) you have one system to change if low levels of standards compliance are identified, and b) reporting on compliance evaluation is standardised, thereby enabling easy benchmarking across all international operations.

For organisations that choose to standardise, there are three approaches that can be taken to building legal registers:

  1. Create a standard format which existing suppliers / staff can complete
  2. Engage an international law firm
  3. Identify a specialist provider of international legal registers

A standard format, pushed out across each international operation, enables a central team to assess the depth to which each business unit is collecting and recording relevant legislation.  Whilst the central team is still reliant on the local practitioners (internal or external) to make their assessments – it does provide the opportunity to question outliers e.g. why does the Austrian team only consider three laws are relevant in the office environment, whilst the French team considers there to be eight?  Enabling technologies exist to centralise locally produced, standard format registers – but if this approach is taken the corporate also takes on the overhead for enforcing the approach.

An approach which can give a greater level of confidence to the corporate center, without the associated administrative overhead, is engaging an international legal firm with a strong pedigree in environment and health and safety (EH&S) practice – for example CMS Cameron McKenna.  Whilst law firms can be a costly approach, they have a reputation to protect and – in most cases – auditors will view these organisations as ‘best of breed’ and therefore not question the work in great detail.  Whilst firms may not cover all jurisdictions a business operates in, they will often have alliances with local firms who can support in service delivery.  The chief concern I would have with this approach is that the corporate is, to an extent, tied into engaging the law firm on an on-going basis – creating costs on (likely already high) costs.

The third approach that should be considered is the use of a specialist provider of international legal registers.  Antaris Consulting, through its Pegasus Legal Register product is one of a number of providers of this type of service.  These types of organisation are usually established by EH&S practitioners rather than legal specialists, which offers its own set of pros and cons.  For example, an EH&S consultant created register is likely to be geared towards supporting the business user, as consultants will often have a greater level of empathy with operations than a corporate lawyer.  However, there are no global brands (yet) in this market niche – and so whilst a corporate law firm offers a recognisable brand, it is unlikely that standards auditors will recognise many of the emergent international legal register providers.

When identifying the most appropriate approach to take, we feel that there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account by the central team:

  • Quality of information
  • Transparency of reporting – especially in the case of the evaluation clauses
  • The importance of central visibility over local registers
  • Cost
  • Buy-in by practitioners within each business unit / jurisdiction – as human buy-in for practical application of international legal registers and evaluation systems is critical

Ultimately, the environment (financial and otherwise) of each corporate will dictate which of the three conceptual approaches makes sense.  The current market evidence points towards an increasingly level of enthusiasm for specialist providers of legal registers, certainly based on the enquiries that the Pegasus Legal Register team are seeing.

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