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Risks changing for in-house lawyers in US

Posted by: Laurence Simons 07/05/13

American in-house lawyers have seen a major shift in the kind of risks they are facing, according to a new report from Tampa Bay-based law firm Carlton Fields, which suggested that a new deluge of class actions is expected in the coming years.

What with tighter regulations, whistleblower complaints and cybersecurity threats, general counsel have plenty on their plate at the moment - all while budgets are being slashed and teams are being cut as businesses try to make their cash go further.

Across industries, corporate counsel reported they spent more than two billion dollars annually on class action lawsuits in 2012. While this is slightly less than was put out in 2011, more cases were dealt with, indicating the improved levels of efficiency seen across the sector.

"Consumer fraud and labour and employment matters account for more than 50 per cent of all class actions, making them the most prevalent. Securities matters dropped from 13 per cent of all class actions in 2011, to ten per cent in 2012," the study revealed.

However, 2013 is set to see the area develop further, with technology having a major impact on the kind of class actions that occur.

According to Carlton Fields, corporate counsel expect an onslaught of new consumer fraud class actions related to data security, wireless and other untested technologies, underlining how important it is for in-house lawyers to be aware of what's going on in the IT department.

On the bright side, the report suggested that businesses are developing more sophisticated and well-directed internal legal teams as they attempt to avoid the expense of hiring external help - suggesting that jobs could be on the up in the sector.

A recent salary survey from Laurence Simons found that 56 per cent of in-house lawyers in the US received a bonus in 2012, with this going some way to make up for the pay gap between internal and private practice.