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14 Mar. 2022

Dominic Jensen

Soft law” opens up new markets

Soft law” opens up new markets
  • Complex markets

Next week sees the 7th edition of the États généraux du droit de l'entreprise organized by the Conseil national des barreaux ...

Beyond its intellectual interest, this theme deserves to be a source of reflection on the lawyers’ offer and, consequently, on the communication around this offer.

What is it all about ? In a globalized world, ethical considerations and social responsibility are creating a new legal order for companies. Indeed, governments are investing economic operators with new responsibilities that take on an ethical dimension with shifting contours according to changes in the societal environment. These codes of conduct, recommendations and practices modify the process of standard-setting. Recent reforms, notably the Sapin II law, show that France is not lagging behind in this process. Anti-corruption, whistle-blowing, compliance, duty of care… are all creating new responsibilities for companies, around which a new “soft law” is emerging.

Lawyers at the heart of corporate ethics

Lawyers have an essential role to play in helping their clients understand this new legal order. The lawyer will guide the company in drawing up its operating rules. Their role is to draw up ethical charters, internal codes and other documents to which not only their corporate clients but also their suppliers and partners can refer. Lawyers not only check that their clients’ practices comply with state laws, but also help them to draw up their own standards, which will become the law of the land.

Business law firms have developed “compliance” offerings to help clients navigate this new context. The theme of this “soft law” as discussed at the États généraux du droit de l’entreprise is broader in scope. While Sapin II concerns companies with more than 500 employees and sales in excess of €100 million, the development of internal corporate standards can also concern SMEs, and begins with consideration of the company’s internal regulations. Today, this document, which is compulsory for companies with more than 20 employees, mainly covers issues relating to employment law. Tomorrow, it could also be the ethical foundation of the SME.

Lawyers, “soft law” opens up new prospects for you. Let your customers know.