ACC's CLO Survey Looks to Past and Future of Legal Department Priorities
Ethics and compliance are top concerns for general counsel, while transparency and privacy issues are also grabbing their attention, according to the Association of Corporate Counsels Chief Legal Officers 2013 Survey.
ACC asked respondents what issues have been important to them over the past 12 months, and which issues will be important to them over the next 12 months. With almost no variation, respondents identified the same three issues looking back and looking ahead: ethics and compliance, followed by regulatory or governmental changes, and information privacy.
Data breaches and protection, however, moved up in importance for the coming year. While 68 percent said it was important over the last 12 months, 72 percent said it will be important to them over the next 12 months.
Thats a reflection of the potential breadth of the issue for a company, says ACC president and CEO Veta Richardson: The liability and harm can be substantial.
GCs also say they need to focus on how their companies deal with privacy. Asked to rate the importance of a set of trending topics, transparency and privacy obligations ranked highest, while the decentralization of legal departments ranked lowest.
The survey culls responses from more than 1,100 general counsel and chief legal officers in both publicly and privately held companies. Respondents, who hail from 36 countries, shared their views on topics ranging from their priorities for 2013 to job satisfaction, performance metrics, and staffing decisions.
In terms of business issues that matter most to law departments in 2013, GCs identified three main priorities: being aware of company activities that may have legal implications; keeping management apprised of legal developments; and staying current and well-informed of changes in the law.
Those answers are consistent with what ACC hears from its membership, according to Richardson. Because GCs continue to tell us that managing enterprise-wide risk, doing more global business, keeping their arms around all the company is doing . . . [is] a tremendous responsibility, she says.
These pressures may help account for the dip in this years job satisfaction results: 81 percent said they were satisfied with their jobs, compared to 92 percent in last years survey.
I think an 11 percent drop says something about the challenges theyre facing, says Richardson. For some, its taken a toll.
But overall, she says, were certainly not talking about an unhappy group.
For instance, ACC compared what GCs said theyd like to be doing in their job with what theyre actually doing in their joband found that reality matches up with preference in most cases.
Most respondents (78 percent) would prefer to spend their time advising executives/participating in strategic corporate issues, the findings state. Of these respondents, 85 percent report that they currently spend their time doing so.
When it comes to evaluating department-wide performance, most respondents use, first and foremost, an external measure: outside legal spending.
Three quarters of respondents use outside legal spending to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of law departments, according to the survey, but it is used by a higher percentage of respondents from public companies.
Indeed, 78 percent of public company general counsel identified outside legal spend as their primary metric, compared to 70 percent of private company GCs. Outside counsel management and inside legal spending rounded out the list of the top three metrics.
Legal departments are still stretched thin for resources, says Richardson, but the survey did demonstrate some improvement in terms of the inside staffing measure.
According to the results, nearly half of respondents law departments hired new staff over the past 12 months. And among that group, 83 percent of departments hired in-house lawyers when they hired new staff.
Another 64 percent of GCs said their law departments created new positions in the last year.