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Global in-house lawyers 'are in the hot seat'

Posted by: Laurence Simons 04/02/13

In-house lawyers around the globe are being asked to do an increasing amount of work that would traditionally have been seen as the preserve of executives, as their influence at the corporate level continues to grow, according to a new report from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC).

No longer locked away in dank cupboards, with only the latest copy of Laywers in Hats and a book of word-search puzzles to keep them company, in-house counsel workers are increasingly working in tandem with business leaders to ensure firms deal with strategic corporate issues in the right way.
According to the ACC, 78 per cent of global in-house lawyers spent the majority of their time advising top-level or c-suite executives on business matters, underlining the way in which the role has evolved in recent years.
ACC president and chief executive officer Veta T Richardson described the current landscape as the "new normal" for counsel across the globe.
"From reducing outside legal costs to keeping apprised of legal developments that may impact business decisions in an increasingly aggressive regulatory environment ... in-house counsel are squarely positioned in the hot seat," she added.
However, the central role many legal departments are now playing in their company's affairs is not always reflected in their budgets, with internal lawyers dealing with the same concern as exercises many of their counterparts in private practice - cutting costs.
This could play some role in the survey's discovery that just 81 per cent of in-house lawyers had high levels of job satisfaction in 2012, down from 92 per cent in the previous year.
While it's unlikely that many counsel want to be put back in the cupboard, it is clear that the financial pressures afflicting businesses across the globe is also having a major impact on how effectively legal professionals can do their job.
"It's not surprising that reducing legal costs is one of the top five business priorities keeping chief legal officers up at night," Ms Richardson.
However, some of them may be able to grab a few hours repose at the news that 30 per cent of respondents anticipated an increase in their budget over the coming 12 months.
A recent report from Consero also raised financial concerns among in-house lawyers, found that only 27 per cent of in-house teams had hired more staff in 2012, despite workloads getting bigger for many companies due to a complicated regulatory landscape.