1 in 3 law departments looking to add more lawyers this year

By Jerome Doraisamy|28 January 2021
1 in 3 law departments looking to add more lawyers this year

According to new research, one in three legal departments expect to hire more lawyers and other professionals in 2021, including departments that are intent on sending more work to law firms.

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) has released its 2021 Chief Legal Officers Survey, which received responses from 947 participants across 44 countries and 21 industries. The report, published in partnership with Exterro, showcased insights into the state of the corporate legal department, including organisational structure, pressing concerns for in-house lawyers, and trends of note following COVID-19.

On the question of whether or not staffing levels in the law department will increase, decrease or remain the same over the course of 2021, most respondents do not anticipate major changes – a surprising result in itself, in the wake of the age of coronavirus.

Three in five (62 per cent) said the staffing of lawyers will remain the same, while one in three (32 per cent) said they will hire more lawyers, and just 3 per cent said they will cut back on lawyers.

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This pointed, ACC deduced, to the “ongoing determination of CLOs to manage more of the legal process in-house, which reduces the risk of sending additional work, including crucial data, outside and improves security”.

Law departments also seem relatively optimistic about their chances of hiring, or at least retaining, paralegals and legal operations professionals. Twenty per cent of respondents want to hire more paralegals and 71 per cent said things will stay the same, and 13 per cent will hire more legal ops professionals, with 79 per cent thinking staffing levels will hold. In both instances, just 2 per cent believe the number of paralegals and legal ops professionals will decline.

On all questions, the balance of respondents was unsure about the trajectory of staffing levels.

When asked if they expect that the amount of work sent to law firms and other legal service providers (OLSPs) would increase, decrease or stay the same in the coming 12 months, the numbers were similar to last year’s expectations, which again is an interesting result, against the backdrop of the ongoing pandemic.

One in three (34 per cent) of law departments said they expect to send more work to law firms, and one in five (18 per cent) will do the same for OLSPs. Fifty-four per cent will outsource the same volume of work to firms, as will 73 per cent of respondents when it comes to OLSPs. Interestingly, fewer law departments expect to decrease the amount of work they outsource to law firms this year (11 per cent compared to 15 per cent in 2020).

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Perhaps the most extraordinary finding was that, among those law departments that expect to add lawyers in 2021, half (49 per cent) correspondingly anticipate outsourcing more work to law firms this year.

This suggested, ACC noted, “that taking more work inside by expanding the legal staff does not necessarily imply reducing the amount of work that is sent to law firms”.

“It is likely that the amount of legal work overall is simply increasing and CLOs are deciding to handle that increased work volume by a mix of sourcing strategies,” it said.

In the coming weeks, Lawyers Weekly will publish further insights from the 2021 Chief Legal Officers Survey.

1 in 3 law departments looking to add more lawyers this year
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