Ivan Loynaz, general counsel, Latin America, 3M

COVID-19 has forced general counsel to re-evaluate the way they manage legal teams. Ivan Loynaz, general counsel for Latin America at 3M shares the challenges he has faced overseeing legal operations in the health care, transportation and electronics sectors.

I am from Venezuela and for most of my career I was based there. I moved to Panama five years ago when 3M relocated me to takeover legal responsibilities for countries across Central America and the Caribbean. After two and a half years I relocated to Mexico to become general counsel there. In 2020, I moved back to Panama as general counsel for Latin America, overseeing legal operations in the health care, transportation and electronics sectors.

I started this new role during the pandemic and have overseen the company’s involvement in a range of initiatives during this period. 3M has been very focused on increasing production of respirators. As a company are working together to get things where they need to be, utilising our own distribution channels. It is important to note the company has not increased the price of respirators. In fact, 3M has been fighting against price gouging and many other types of fraud in both the United States and Latin America. There have been fewer cases in Latin American than in the US.

Legally, we have taken a global approach, rather than a local one. Legal departments across the company have aligned their goals for Latin America, USAC (United States and Canada) and Europe.

One of the biggest challenges that I have experienced in recent months has been dealing with the speed of change. Governments have generally relaxed their rules to allow healthcare products to come into countries easier,  while some jurisdictions have made it harder to export products deemed necessary during the pandemic. Dealing with different jurisdictions and trying to standardise the way in which we work has been our biggest goal. It is a challenge when deciding how to balance multiple jurisdictions – you cannot work with 15 countries in 15 different ways. We need to find a midpoint that works across varying countries.

For example, if I am drafting an agreement that I would like to be used as a template for both Mexico and Argentina, I cannot put into that agreement the initial part of the document, as the format will be different for each country. If I insist on having that part of the document done in one single way for Latin America it would simply fail. If I focused on the little things, I would lose sight of the bigger picture.

No matter what jurisdiction we are dealing with, general counsel need to be more business minded  than external counsel. Being part of a company is very different to being part of a law firm. Your state of mind needs to be focused on what the company needs, and on how the company’s goals  can be achieved through different tools. That is where the IT team here at 3M steps in and integrates those tools, sometimes even delivering new tools on demand. When I was in Venezuela I asked the IT team to develop a tool for my internal client agreements. I was tired of people coming to my office to request an agreement with a range of stipulations, without giving me the details that I would need in order to draft the agreement.  The IT team developed technology that would make it easier to extract the relevant information I would need to draft that agreement. However, as things evolved, that particular technology is not efficient enough anymore.

At the moment, there are a number of tools on the market that companies can purchase. They can then adapt those tools to the company’s needs. That is exactly the case for 3M. We have been working with management tools for agreements as well as repository tools to be more efficient. We as a legal department are very much like a sponges. We need to be aware of and absorb a lot, whilst always adapting to the needs of the business. Our goal is to serve the business – there is no question ever about that. We then have to be innovative, and we need to be fast. We aim to help business teams do what they need to do – which in the end is to sell our products.

To that extent, it is really important to adapt to the needs of the business and to take advantage of all the tools we have to make work easier. But I have to admit that the legal department does complain in order to get the technologies that help us become more streamlined. That is the nature of being human, if we did not complain we would not be able to improve things.

I miss being able to go into to work and see people in our Panama office. Looking to the future, I think this moment of time has accelerated things within the industry. We definitely need to move towards becoming more efficient, and to find a balance between being compliant with the law and doing the right thing. I know doing the right thing is a subjective concept, but it is important to try and do what is right at a particular moment when you are faced with a particular situation. As a lawyer, the personal values you have and believe in, are a big part of it.

Of course, you also need support from the business. In a company like 3M, when a lawyer says something is not right, the issue will be heard and observed. Legal departments do not only report to their businesses, but also to a wider legal code. Everybody knows the opinions of lawyers matter – and although lawyers can sometimes get it wrong – companies trust their legal departments.