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Surprisingly, many chief legal officers feel that their most difficult problem is not reining in outside counsel expenses or dealing with tougher regulators, but shoring up in-house communications. At least that was the largest group response in the annual Association of Corporate Counsel survey released Monday. Some 35% of the 1,165 chief legal officers surveyed said their most pressing issue was “keeping apprised of company activities that may have legal implications.” The next highest response, 19%, said the top issue was doing “too much work for too little/resources/legal budget.” And another18 percent cited outside legal costs as their biggest headache. But there were some bright spots too. One upbeat note, ACC general counsel James Merklinger said, was an increased trend in hiring more law department staff, reflecting “positive growth within in-house legal departments.” The survey said more CLOs (37%) are planning to add staff in the coming year than reported in 2009, 2008, or 2007. Another bright spot was confirmation that, overall, chief legal officers are a contented lot. An overwhelming majority (92%) said that despite expanding duties or changing roles of the CLO, they are still satisfied with their chosen careers. Only 54 percent said that their department has been affected this year by the economic downturn—a significant drop from the 74 percent reported in 2009. Negative impacts of the economy included an increased workload for their departments, followed by decreases in outside counsel expenditures and internal salary freezes. The survey ranked the number one way to manage expenses, according to 57 percent of the CLOs, as alternative fee arrangements with outside counsel. Another 43 percent said they have increased the use of paralegals, contract lawyers, or other administrative staff, presumably in place of outside counsel. To improve their relationships with outside counsel, more than one-half of all respondents would like to see more focus on matter and budget management (59%), as well as alternative fees, fixed fees, and/or discounted rates (47%). “Client service and managing outside counsel relationships are at the heart of what in-house counsel do, and it’s no surprise that there’s been increased involvement with the ACC Value Challenge, and that the survey results emphasize their interest in establishing better relationships with their outside counsel,” noted ACC president and CEO Veta Richardson. Richardson added, “The CLO’s success in addressing company priorities, while managing costs with outside counsel, further solidifies their credibility and importance within their respective organizations.” The survey was released Monday at the ACC annual meeting in Denver. Stay tuned for more dispatches from the event, and follow CorpCounsel reporter Catherine Dunn, who is on the ground at ACC, on Twitter at @catadunn. See also: “Report Tracks In-House Salaries and Projects 2012 Pay,” CorpCounsel, October 2011.

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