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In-house legal jobs involve commercial advice

Posted by: Laurence Simons 20/11/12

Lawyers with in-house legal jobs may have traditionally been seen as the poorer cousins of their relations in private practice, but recent developments have seen their role grow in prestige and importance - and this trend looks set to continue over the coming years.

This is because a new KPMG report has revealed that general counsels are increasingly becoming a big part of the commercial decision-making progress, using their legal nous to advise firms on any potential regulatory pitfalls that could lie ahead in the business jungle.

Surveying 320 in-house general counsels from 32 countries, the organisation suggested that the increasingly Byzantine regulatory architecture surrounding companies across the globe means their legal experts have an important role to play in the corporate world.

Kathryn Britten, global head of KPMG's Legal Services Sector, asserted that employees performing in-house legal jobs are no longer simply wheeled out to deal with specifically litigatory issues, like the one friend you only every call when you're going to a pub quiz and require his uncanny knowledge of 1970s disco performers, but are now helping form boardroom policy.

"Companies are facing a cloud of regulation that is adding a layer of complexity to almost every commercial decision that they need to take and risks casting a further shadow at a time of low economic growth in mature economies," she explained.

Although only 38 per cent of respondents actually sit on the main board of their organisations, some 70 per cent suggested that giving commercial advice to the board is now just as important as giving legal advice.

This was further emphasised by Ms Britten, who suggested that counsels can now play the role of "scanning the horizon" for any upcoming legal threats or changes in regulation likely to affect a firm, scampering up the crow's nest with their telescope and shouting 'Ahoy!' if they spot any potential problems.

"The most successful organisations will have general counsel who are integrated in the businesses, advising on the management of risks and the avoidance or resolution of disputes and offering commercial solutions," concluded the KPMG chief.

One factor in driving up compliance and regulatory complications could be the increasingly hi-tech nature of global business, with smartphones, remote working and the possibility that androids will one day rule the world all supplying companies with potential legal headaches.

This was reflected in the KPMG survey, which found that 83 per cent of people working in the technology sector anticipate the number of legal disputes companies are involved in will rise in the next five years.

Given that a report from the PGP Corporation and the Ponemon Institute recently suggested over half of global businesses do not consider the security of personal information to be a corporate priority, in-house lawyers are likely to be kept on their toes for now.