Lusani Mugivhi heads the legal team at CSIR
After finding her commercial studies demotivating, Lusani Mugivhi switched to a law degree and in so doing, found her niche in the world of work.
Today, she is Senior Legal Counsel and Acting Group Manager at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
Mugivhi’s job includes managing the legal services division of the CSIR, which is South Africa’s central and premier scientific research and development organisation, responsible for collaborating with stakeholders nationally and globally.
Her role comprises integrating legal strategy across the organisation and contributing towards meeting CSIR’s strategic objectives.
Mugivhi’s daily duties also involve managing legal and contractual risks in compliance with the prevailing legislative framework. This is done by proactively contributing to the mitigation of legal risks as well as maximising legal rights in the protection of the organisation and its brand.
She also has to ensure that the legal strategy relates to policies of the CSIR and fits into the business model of the organisation.
She works closely with senior management and legal specialists to comprehensively and effectively provide legal advisory services to the organisation and its subsidiaries.
Mugivhi spoke to PSM about her career path and what it means to be an in-house attorney for an organisation that is respected both locally and internationally.
“After completing matric, I enrolled at the University of Limpopo to study BCom (Economics), but I got bored and demotivated half way through my first year of study… It might have been the crowded lecture hall,” the 37-year-old Mugivhi said.
One morning she woke up and thought ‘why not try a law degree?’.
“It was unplanned, but from the first moment I set foot in the Introduction to South African Law class I was hooked. There was no looking back. I enjoy that law is a logical field, so a lot of discussions and arguments take place with my peers and I find that intriguing,” she explained.
Mugivhi completed her LLB degree and articles and later was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa. Today, she has 12 years’ work experience under her belt which she uses to good effect in leading the team of legal experts at the CSIR.
“I joined the CSIR in December 2015. My journey has been enjoyable and challenging at the same time. The CSIR is a very complex organisation with a lot of interesting and highly–scientific things going on, which sometimes seems to be rocket science for an attorney. I had to adjust my way of doing things very early to ensure that I adapted to the organisation’s needs and way of doing things,” said Mugivhi.
But before joining the CSIR, she worked for Pikitup Johannesburg (SOC) Ltd as a legal adviser for about five years, before moving to the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
“I was already married with kids, so we had to relocate to Cape Town. After three years on the job, I felt the need to move back to Gauteng. Cape Town was no longer happening for me. That is when I applied for a job at the CSIR and I have been here since,” she said.
She said her job at the SAMRC prepared her for her current position at the CSIR.
A good listener
When asked what being an attorney means to her, Mugivhi defined it as a job that requires one to be logical and a good listener.
“If you are not anything like that, you can miss the critical aspects of what clients want from you and that can compromise you and them. You need to pay attention to detail, and you have to read a lot in order to stay relevant to the law fraternity,” she said.
Her passion for compliance led Mugivhi to enrol for a postgraduate qualification in compliance management, which she completed in 2016.
For most of her career, she worked within legal and compliance divisions.
“I have a passion for intellectual property, legislative compliance, corporate governance and privacy laws,” she expanded.
Essentially, in-house lawyers at the CSIR look after all legal needs of the organisation, including issues relating to employment and commercial work.
They also advise on issues of human resources, assist with projects and litigation, deal with agreements, safeguard the CSIR brand and ensure that its valuable intellectual property and that of its scientists who have invented or innovated something is protected at all times.
“The main difference between what I do and what my colleagues in practice do is that I do not have multiple clients to look after but one main, complex and busy client. I use practising attorneys to assist me with litigation matters and to draft the court papers on my behalf,” she explained.
Her team comprises six senior counsels, one legal counsel and an administrator. It operates in a very diverse and multi- jurisdictional environment.
“We have to familiarise ourselves with the laws of other countries as well,” she said.
“We do a lot of contracting. On average, we draft about 2 000 contracts per year and more than half of them require us to engage stakeholders outside South African borders,” she added.
This means that they encounter challenges from time to time because they have to understand the scientific part of what is being done at the CSIR in order to apply the law.
Her team has to keep up with business needs and accommodate those needs instantaneously.
“We need to be ahead of the pack in as far as compliance and governance is concerned to ensure that the organisation is always up to date. We always need to be proactive and track all legislative changes affecting the CSIR.”
Mugivhi said this was not easy given that the organisation comprised about 12 operating units with specialisation regulated by a different set of rules.
To address these challenges, Mugivhi’s division is in the process of rebuilding its team, its operating model and business offerings.
She added that some of the best processes, tools and technologies would be employed to ensure efficiency and efficacy in support of the current team.
This will ensure that the team interface with the organisation is seamless and almost instantaneous.
Striving for excellence
Despite the challenges, Mugivhi said the work done by her team was impeccable due to the calibre of people she works with.
“We have had zero commercial litigation for the past three years,” she said.
Mugivhi said her job enables her to learn new things every day that improve her professional and social life.
Apart from her day job, Mugivhi felt a need to give back to the legal fraternity. This led her to taking up an opportunity to sit on the Corporate Counsel Association of South Africa Board of Directors, of which she is vice president.
Mugivhi said if she could turn back time, she would pat her young-self on the back and say: “Girl, you did very well for yourself. Well done”.
She said she never allowed the challenges that she faced as a girl from the rural Tshifudi village in Limpopo to stop her from attaining her dreams.
In order to improve professionally and academically, Mugivhi said she would continue to study. Currently, she is doing a Management Development Programme with the University of Pretoria.