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Legal expertise for non-lawyers in demand

April 20, 2016

More and more legal questions in daily business

International business is getting tricky. More and more companies in Europe have decided to do business abroad, where rules may be different from those at home; their employees, who are not always legal experts, have to increasingly deal with legal issues. In the following interview, Prof. Georg Kodek, Academic Director of the Master of Legal Studies (European Business Law) and judge of the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice (OGH), explains how the Master of Legal Studies (EBL) could help remedy this situation by offering sound solutions to both companies and individuals.

An interview with Prof. Georg Kodek, Academic Director of the Master of Legal Studies (European Business Law).

Why is it that legal matters are becoming more and more important in day-to-day business operations?

In recent years, there has been a considerable increase in the number and complexity of legal provisions and requirements. We have seen this in the development of national law, and the situation has been accentuated - for instance in the context of doing business across national borders - by European Union law. As a result, companies are facing huge challenges. More and more frequently, professionals, who are not legal experts, have to deal with legal issues, which is why having a solid understanding of legal matters is no longer an additional qualification, but also indispensable for coping with the demands of everyday professional practice, especially if you work in an executive position.

What options are there for businesses that either have no legal department, for instance because of their size or because they do not want to or cannot always ask legal experts for advice?

If your job frequently requires you to deal with legal questions (no matter whether they pertain to contract law, labor law, tax law or real-estate law), you work at a special intersection of law, business and technology. Special skills are needed when it comes to navigating this environment successfully.


What makes programs like the Master of Legal Studies so useful is that they teach students basic tools and skills for addressing legal matters facing them in their day-to-day work. This includes, in particular, creating sales and service contracts, which are at the heart of most companies' business operations. Employees who have a thorough understanding of legal matters in addition to their professional qualifications are an asset, especially to small and medium-sized enterprises without a legal department.

More and more businesses operate across national borders. As a result, individuals who are not legal experts have to increasingly deal with legal issues involving more than one legal system. What topics are of particular practical relevance in this context?

Here, too, cross-border sales and services contracts are particularly relevant. Another area that is becoming increasingly important is cross-border labor law. As soon as you plan to set up a branch office or a subsidiary in a foreign country, or if you plan to step up your business operations abroad, things start to get really complex.

Why?

Because such plans involve not only foreign tax law but also foreign civil law, trading standards, environmental law as well as other regulatory requirements; and it goes without saying that you need to take all of these factors into account.

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To what extent can a program like the Master of Legal Studies enable people to deal with legal matters on their own? When is expert legal advice absolutely necessary?

Completing a program like the Master of Legal Studies does, of course, not mean that you will never again have to seek expert legal advice. This is not the purpose of the training, and it would be improper to make such a claim. What we aim to do is to help students gain a good understanding of legal fundamentals, thus making it easier for them to interact with legal experts. By raising their awareness of relevant issues, we enable them to gauge more accurately when professional advice may be needed. Graduates of our program have been trained to think and act like legal experts; they ask the right questions and are better able to understand the answers. Hence, they can collaborate more efficiently with in-house legal departments or outside specialists.

How detailed of an understanding of the differences in the legal systems of countries should you have as an entrepreneur, for instance? What makes sense and what does not?

Above all else, you need a good understanding of legal fundamentals and an awareness of potential legal issues. There are only a few specialists who have the expertise to deal with the intricacies of foreign legal systems. When you are faced with such a complex situation, it is definitely a good idea to seek expert advice.

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