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In-house roles to take on greater strategic focus
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In-house roles to take on greater strategic focus

The operational successes of legal business units will change the profile of in-house teams, a new report has predicted.

The latest report from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) suggests that the role of in-house lawyers will transform as legal teams meet and exceed operational goals for their companies. Specifically, the transformation will see in-house counsel “come full circle” and be given a seat at the strategic table more often.

“According to the data, today a robust 65 per cent of law departments are strategic partners, inextricably woven into every function that feeds the organisational bloodstream,” the 2016 ACC Law Department Management Report said.

The report said the role of general counsel is morphing towards “strategic integration”, incrementally and by “degrees of power”.

The ACC said the trend is a change for the better, as it can offer businesses the benefit of the “enterprise-wide” knowledge that naturally sits in legal teams.

The report went on to imply that by fostering better relationships between in-house legal teams and other specialist units within a company, a door is opened to provide strategic planning advice to the board.  

The legal teams with greater “organisational influence” are those that nurture their relationships with other business units such as IT, human resources and corporate communications, the report said.

“The beneficial goal of full corporate integration will entail or directly lead to intensified relations with the board as well as C-suite [to] work indissolubly with directors to ensure that their oversight is comprehensive and that the questions asked, and the recommendations made, speak advisedly to the future of the enterprise,” the report said.

The ACC identified three operational strengths that empower legal teams to “define and deliver” maximum value for their companies, in turn elevating their strategic profile.

According to the report, strategic advice is most sought from legal teams that maintain consistent budgets, apply innovation to their work and utilise management practices to drive efficiency.

Three quarters of in-house respondents surveyed for the report said their legal departments “almost always” meet with business leaders to discuss risk.

Fifty-four per cent of respondents said their departments come within 5 per cent of their budget. The data also showed that spending within the budget was easier for smaller legal departments, as a result of less litigation and smaller regulatory workloads.

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