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Aussie in-house teams more likely to be in-office than global counterparts

New research shows that law departments in the Asia-Pacific region have gone back into the office in greater numbers than in-house teams around the world.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 16 May 2023 Corporate Counsel
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The report

Thomson Reuters recently released its 2023 State of the Corporate Law Department report, which surveyed 1,569 corporate legal professionals globally throughout 2022. Respondents hailed from the US, Asia-Pacific region, Continental Europe, the UK, Canada, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

In discussing its report, Thomson Reuters wrote in its executive summary that “do more with less” has “become a near eye-roll-inducing cliché among corporate law departments. Yet it also remains a daily reality for many corporate general counsel and a frequent topic of conversation among in-house legal professionals.”


“And it is, indeed, a very apropos conversation. Research from the Thomson Reuters Institute has found that 65 per cent of corporate law departments are experiencing increasing matter volumes, while 59 per cent are dealing with flat, if not decreasing, budgets. This increase in levels of matter volume is being driven by growing global regulatory complexity, along with fallout appurtenant to the global economic slowdown,” it wrote.

“As a result, even at a time when pressure to control outside counsel costs remains high, corporate law departments, by and large, anticipate increasing legal spend across practices, global regions, and industry sectors.”

Changes to ways of working and common hybrid approaches

In exploring the utilisation of remote, hybrid and in-office working arrangements, Thomson Reuters reflected that law departments remain concerned not only about the economy and regulatory environment in which they will be operating but also about how they will be performing that work.

“Even today, there remain more questions about how to operate in an evolving hybrid/remote working environment than there are answers,” it wrote.

When asked which working pattern best describes one’s in-house team, 43 per cent of law departments in APAC said that most or all team members work in the office full-time.

This is very much an outlier, Thomson Reuters noted, with the next highest reporting region being Canada at 21 per cent, and all other global regions reporting between 5 and 14 per cent of teams working in-office full-time.

The overwhelming majority of global law departments, it appears, are utilising hybrid arrangements, with 93 per cent of in-house teams in the UK doing so, down to 64 per cent in the US and Canada.

APAC law departments are again the outlier, with less than half (45 per cent) of in-house teams adopting hybrid arrangements.

Interestingly, Thomson Reuters pointed out, full-time remote working arrangements remain uncommon in all global law departments.

Elsewhere, one in three (36 per cent) respondents reported that team members have complete flexibility over when to be in the office, and one in four (27 per cent) said that there is a fixed timetable as to when people should attend the office.

Two in three (67 per cent) noted there are minimum expected days for working in the office, 28 per cent said there are regular meetings to be attended in person, and 21 per cent reported guidelines for which activities take place in person.

Mandated in-office days

Enforcement of the expectation for a minimum number of days working in the office can be another question, Thomson Reuters mused, and is one with which businesses still appear to be grappling.

“Many complain that even when a certain number of days is mandated, the purposes of being in the office, such as camaraderie, collegiality, and collaboration, can be frustrated if the other team members key to these interactions don’t happen to be in the office at the same time,” it wrote.

“With this in mind, it is perhaps surprising that more respondents report team members having complete flexibility over when to be in the office than report having specific guidelines regarding specific meetings or activities which should take place in the office. This is perhaps reflective of a workforce that still places a high degree of value on the autonomy and flexibility in managing their work life that they came to enjoy during the pandemic.”

“Striking a balance between the need for the benefits of in-person collaboration with the flexibility of remote working is why many have settled on hybrid working as a ‘best of both worlds’ solution, and that seems likely to remain the default position,” Thomson Reuters concluded.