Corporate counsel focus on navigating regulatory change

ALM Legal Intelligence recently released "Corporate Counsel: Agenda 2014," a white paper on challenges facing legal departments of major U.S. corporations based on a survey of senior legal officers.

The report reveals a heightened emphasis on dealing with government regulation and a push to create a broad "culture of compliance" within corporations. Unlike two previous annual surveys, "navigating regulatory changes" rose to the third most cited issue respondents expect to be "of most concern" next year, following "supporting company growth" and "providing exceptional service to business leaders."

Nearly half of respondents plan to place special focus on minimizing legal liability in 2014 through improved business processes, with one in three intending to position the legal department as a strategic business partner and create a culture of compliance in the company.

Legal departments' budget outlook has improved with only 12 percent of general counsel expecting cuts in 2014, compared to 22 percent reporting actual cuts this year. One in four respondents expect to hire lawyers next year, while 14 percent will add to non-attorney staff.

Three out of four plan to give legal staff raises, mostly of less than 5 percent.

Asked about relationships with law firms, fully 81 percent chose "responsiveness" as the most important factor, a sharp increase from last year's two-thirds.

"Corporate counsel are signaling a cautious attitude toward 2014," said Kevin Iredell, vice president of ALM Legal Intelligence. "They are uncertain about the recovery and wary of the regulatory minefield's expansion. They want to build more compliance-consciousness into the overall corporate structure, both to reduce risk and to get a handle on costs."

The report, based on survey responses from 147 senior legal officers of large U.S. corporations, is available now at http://almlegalintel.com/Surveys/corporatecounselagenda.

Published: Mon, Jan 20, 2014