Nearly a third of legal departments are planning to hire more lawyers in 2021, an increase from the number that planned to recruit last year, one of many signs that the pandemic has not slowed department growth, according to a new survey.
The Association of Corporate Counsel’s survey released Tuesday found that more than 32% of general counsel plan on hiring more in-house lawyers this year. That’s up from 30% who said they planned on hiring more lawyers in a 2020 survey completed before the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Among the legal chiefs who plan to hire more in-house counsel, 49% also intend to send more work to their outside firms in 2021, up from nearly 45% in 2020.
The survey results suggest that legal departments have more work than before despite the economic effects of the pandemic, and are using both in-house lawyers and outside firms to tackle matters. It also indicates chief legal officers are seeing their responsibilities continue to grow in a changed environment.
“We believe that we’re squarely in the age of the chief legal officer because never before—at least in modern legal profession times—has the office of general counsel been so front and center to addressing the concerns that your corporations are facing,” Veta T. Richardson, ACC’s president and CEO, told Bloomberg Law.
The ACC’s Chief Legal Officers 2021 Survey, conducted with e-discovery company Exterro was completed in the fall of 2020. It includes responses from 947 CLOs in 44 countries. More than 70% of respondents were from the U.S.
More Work, More Worry
Use of legal operations professionals also hit a record high in the 2021 survey, underscoring a years-long trend in the industry. Nearly 61% of legal departments surveyed employ at least one legal operations professional, up from around 54% last year and 21% in 2015.
Larger companies were also more likely to have legal ops professionals. The survey found that around 80% of organizations with $3 billion or more in revenue had at least one legal operations professional compared to half of companies with less than $100 million in revenue.
Richardson said that legal ops professionals give general counsel the freedom to focus on legal matters without worrying about day-to-day operations of the legal department, creating a “great marriage.”
In line with other industry trends surrounding privacy and security, this year’s ACC survey found that cybersecurity overtook data privacy and regulation/compliance to become the most important issue for chief legal officers.
General counsel are also increasingly overseeing their organization’s privacy functions, which are now the second most common CLO responsibility behind compliance. Some 78.1% of survey respondents were at least somewhat concerned that data privacy laws will impact their organization in the coming year.
“A lot of the risk associated with privacy is legal in nature,” Richardson said. “There is the technology side, which is fixing the issues and managing the information, but in terms of the liability for properly treating client, customer, constituent data, those risks are driven solely by changes in law, which general counsel are best positioned to be able to interpret.”
The survey’s other key findings include:
- CLOs spend roughly 28% of their time providing legal advice and dedicate the rest to duties such as strategy development, non-legal business issues, and board meetings.
- 37.7% of legal chiefs said their most important strategic initiative fell within legal operations, the largest category.
- Nearly two-thirds of CLOs expect industry-specific regulations for their organizations to increase in the next year.
- 72.7% of legal chiefs expect diversity and inclusion efforts to increase in 2021.