(l-r) Host, broadcaster Leanne Manas; Botha Ernst, Charles Hearn and Robyn Van Heerden, legal counsel; Pieter Badenhorst, director, legal, risk and compliance; awards judge Sandy Oberholzer, Tiger Brands (l-r) Host, broadcaster Leanne Manas; Botha Ernst, Charles Hearn and Robyn Van Heerden, legal counsel; Pieter Badenhorst, director, legal, risk and compliance; awards judge Sandy Oberholzer, Tiger Brands

Finalists: Ashburton Investments; HSBC Bank; Procter & Gamble (highly commended)

AFGRI Group’s in-house legal unit scooped the Legal Department of the Year (Small Team) prize for its shrewd budget management in the face of cost-cutting pressures across the group.

The team – which comprises a GC, three lawyers and one PA – was being asked to service an increased volume of M&A, banking and general corporate finance transactions. Given that those transaction areas typically result in higher external legal spend, it had to devise a strategy to meet these needs without impacting on the budget.

That involved keeping all transaction-agreement drafting in-house, regardless of the size and profile of the deal, as well as standardising documents and introducing self-service tools for clients so the legal team was not wasting time on routine or less important matters.

The success was immediate: the team’s external legal spend came in significantly below budget. It also reduced litigation expenses for the third year in a row.

“Their technical ability to draft and implement complex and high profile transactions in-house, without sacrificing the quality of the documentation, is remarkable,” said Chris Venter, the group’s chief executive.