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.
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 overwhelming 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.
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 [with] 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" droppedfrom 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 companywide culture of compliance is an area that needs improvementand 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 effortsnot 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 No. 1 answer.