"Our industry is growing at the speed of light and we as lawyers cannot lose a second"
Jacobo Cohen Imach, General Counsel & SVP - Legal & Public Affairs at Mercado Libre Argentina, tells us about the changes in consumer habits as a result of the pandemic and the challenges this poses for his team, as well as the outlook for e-commerce in Latam.
Jacobo Cohen Imach
Leaders League: What were the main difficulties and opportunities presented by the pandemic?
Jacobo Cohen Imach: Our industry is growing at the speed of light and we as lawyers cannot lose a second. There are 150 of us in the legal and government affairs team and the main challenge has been to ensure the team remains focused and motivated to deal with the uncertainty and not lose track with the pace of the business.
Having turned the page, last year was the team's best year ever. Consumer and sales habits have changed, now everything is focused on e-commerce and the fintech world. Our business has multiplied exponentially, as has our work. Those were tough months, with a lot of pressure and stress, but the team became more empowered and rose to the challenge.
Another challenge was also to ensure that governments gave e-commerce a chance to continue operating in the midst of the pandemic. Governments quickly understood that e-commerce was a way for businesses to continue working and that helped the country in general a lot because SMEs could continue operating using to our and other platforms.
What’s your opinion of Argentina’s e-commerce regulations?
I don't see it as very different from other regulations in Latin America. There is nothing that makes ours different in any particular way.
In Argentina and also in other countries, sometimes regulators make rules with what they believe it might be the best for the society, but without involving relevant stakeholders, which ends up affecting new investments. I think this is the problem with many regulations because this industry is developing very quickly and you end up missing opportunities if you do not regulate in a flexible, comprehensive and practical way.
Another mistake that regulators often make is to impose more onerous burdens on e-commerce than on traditional commerce, when it should be the same, especially with the change in consumer habits as a result of the pandemic. I think it’s important to have a balance and not act in favor of only one of the parties.
Have you noticed more flexibility since the pandemic?
No, not at all. On the contrary, many regulators, realizing that more people were buying online issued new regulations, often in a disorderly manner and with only a partial view of reality.
In light of the pandemic, has your work with outside legal counsel changed?
We have a very large legal team that grew 50% this year and whose work has become very sophisticated. We tend to go to law firms when we need a specific, deep expertise or with issues that are very commoditizable.
I think that the pandemic was good for external law firms because they had to become more flexible and incorporate aspects of our world by force. This helped to loosen up the law firms a little bit.
In our case, the firms had to learn to work at a different speed, we forced them to get out of their comfort zone, to react much faster, to have more people available. They had to incorporate technology.
The pandemic also helped to break down traditional practices such as the permanent use of the office. Lawyers had to be much more efficient, to catch and keep up with us. With those who worked well, the quality of service improved a lot, but there are others who could not keep up. Not everyone adapted.
Have you noticed any differences in remote service delivery?
It was difficult at first. The smaller firms were the ones that adapted faster because they are more flexible, while the larger ones took a little longer, but I think they got there sooner or later.
Do you use any innovation tools for the legal area?
Technology and everything that makes legal management more efficient is in our DNA. We have many tools for trial management, contract management, legal chatbots that help us with queries, artificial intelligence for answering consumer claims, tools for intellectual property management, among others.
We are also working on everything that has to do with Legal Spend, to better manage our expenses and ensure that external firms bill us as we need.
What do you see as the main challenges for corporate lawyers today?
The main challenge for a lawyer is to be a business enabler. Every lawyer has to understand what are the company objectives, goals and needs because otherwise they run the risk of giving partial solutions. In-house lawyers sometimes just do what they are asked to do and don't go beyond that.
Nowadays we lawyers have to adapt at the same speed as the industry and have the commercial sense to develop everything quickly and according to the needs of the company, obviously while ensuring the advice we give is legally sound.
There is also an important difference between a lawyer of law firm and an in-house lawyer, where the first is more "by the book", while the in-house lawyer is asked how things can be done. It is a key mindset change that the in-house lawyer has to have in order to survive.
How does the company’s data-protection system work?
We choose legislation of the highest standard and apply it to all countries. The work is interconnected, with cybersecurity, IT, the commercial team and everyone in general understandings that taking care of our users' data is fundamental. We are very respectful, for us it is something to be taken very seriously.
What are the prospects for e-commerce in Latam? Are you planning to expand?
E-commerce has great prospects; today it is much more within everyone's reach. We are in 18 countries throughout the region but there is still a big task ahead and a lot of room to continue growing in the short term, which motivates us a lot. We will continue to invest heavily in fintech and logistics infrastructure.
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