It is difficult to make predictions for the coming year with any certainty given the strong influence of ever-changing local and global economic fortunes and business confidence.
I contacted a number of general counsel and key legal decision makers across Australian and international corporations in the financial, construction & infrastructure, IT, airline and energy & resources industries to get a sense of their plans for the year ahead.
Only 16 per cent anticipated increasing lawyer numbers, while most plan to stay the same.
None were intending to reduce numbers and most will replace any leavers immediately. Most plan on outsourcing a similar amount of legal work next year (83%), but will look to drive competition and realise cost savings where possible; where an increase was expected it was due to upcoming projects. Given the continued desire to control costs while keeping in-house numbers steady, the focus will be on efficiency and productivity to allow the team to ‘do more with less’.
When discussing practice areas in demand, most foresee an increase in work in the regulatory space due to new and recent changes in areas such as privacy, consumer & competition law and financial services regulation. Others tipped the possible introduction of new laws in anti-bribery/corruption given the recent introductions in the UK and US. This focus echoes KPMG’s recent global GC study outlining the need for GCs to play a greater and more pro-active role in risk assessment with the “strongest risk to organisations in the next five years being an expected increase in the volume and complexity of regulation”. The likely result of this is an increase in in-house legal roles with a compliance or regulatory focus across both corporates and financial institutions.
With staff numbers remaining static, role volume will depend on the amount of movement. This is often tied to a feeling of confidence in the economy and the legal market generally. It is also reliant on roles being available at different levels. One of the issues this year has been that fewer senior roles have arisen, but this may change if confidence increases and those who have put off moving on decide to take the leap.
Given the uncertain economic climate it is right to be careful before making a move. However, consider the fact that the in-house teams questioned have no plans to reduce numbers given they are working at maximum capacity. Also, most internal sign-off processes are lengthier and have to go further up the chain, meaning approved roles are likely to be business critical. If it is the right time for you to take the next step in your career then you should still consider your options, though be aware that it may take longer than usual.