Report Reveals In-House Counsel's 2013 Agenda
As general counsel continue to ply their trade amid a complex regulatory environment and a slow-moving economy, they are grappling with questions such as how to forge strategic partnerships with company leaders, and how to create a culture of compliance with purchase, according to a new report, "Corporate Counsel: Agenda 2013," from ALM Legal Intelligence (a part of Corporate Counsel's parent company, ALM).
Still dealing with pressures to do more with less, in-house counsel are also examining workflow in their departments. And while many are concerned with how to better manage outside counsel costs, the survey reports, GCs overwhelmingly prioritize partner responsiveness above hourly rates.
The results on law department priorities for this year hail from a survey of 126 in-house attorneys, 64 percent of them GCs or chief legal officers, and 30 percent of them deputy general counsel. Forty-three percent of respondents represent companies with annual revenue of $1 billion or more, and 48 percent work at companies with revenue of $500 million or less.
(See select results from the survey in our interactive charts.)
The good news in the survey's results is that more business leaders appear to be putting the general counsel on speed dial. "Only 29 percent of respondents felt they were brought in too late to deal with matters effectively, which is down considerably compared to the 54 percent who responded in 2011," the survey finds.
In another positive marker, the number of GCs who said they're viewed as business "road blocks" dropped from 29 percent in 2011 to 18 percent in 2012.
Given the uptick in government regulation and litigation following the 2007-2008 economic collapse, "People are more likely to get in trouble than they were five years ago, so they tend to bring their lawyers in earlier," an associate GC of a major human resources company told ALM Intelligence. "Legal is more front-and-center and is getting more attention from the CEO."
Yet general counsel are still focused on improving their C-suite relationships: 46 percent said what they'd most like to improve this year is "to be more of a strategic partner, not just legal counsel," the report finds.
Compliance is top of mind, too. About a third of respondents said that creating a company-wide culture of compliance is an area that needs improvement and most respondents said other company leaders (not just legal) need to recognize just how important compliance is.
One general counsel put it bluntly as to what companies need: "Greater support from corporate management for serious compliance efforts not punishing the legal team for having to act as the grownups in the room."
Asked about their top concerns for 2013, respondents were allowed to identify three, and 39 percent identified "Doing more with fewer resources" the number one answer.
Following closely was "Keeping business leaders happy with law department performance" (37 percent of respondents) and "Supporting company growth" (also with 37 percent).
GCs, then, are paying close attention to how workflow is managed in the legal department. "Asked about the improvements GCs would like to implement in their departments in the coming year, improved workflow management, operational efficiencies, and automated contract, document, and litigation management systems emerged topmost in the minds of respondents," the survey notes.
"In order to continue to maximize efficiency and minimize expenses," one respondent said, "our goal is to really explore the adoption of new software for project management and task automation."
When it comes to hiring outside law firms, cost, not surprisingly, is an issue: 31 percent of respondents said managing the high cost of outside counsel is one of their biggest concerns for the year.
In a departure from the 2011 survey, however, in-house counsel don't seem to think alternative fee arrangements are the way to go. "There was a steep drop 57 percent to 17 percent in the number who saw an opportunity to negotiate new billing methods not based on the billable hour," the latest survey finds.
What the majority of GCs are looking for from outside counsel is responsiveness: 67 percent said it's the most important quality they value in law firms, above adhering to budgets (44 percent), speed of work (32 percent), and hourly rate charged (27 percent).
Meeting the legal department's needs means not just "how fast a partner picks up the phone," the survey notes, but the extent to which an outside attorney understands the client's business and industry.
"The most important thing to me personally as regards outside lawyers is that they understand enough about our business to ask the right questions and spot the right issues, instead of assuming they know what we need," the associate GC commented. "That permeates everything, including budgets."
To purchase the full "Corporate Counsel: Agenda 2013" survey, visit ALM Intelligence.