The big challenges for in-house lawyers in 2024
What’s in store in 2024 for law department leaders? Here, senior corporate counsel unpack the headline hurdles to be faced in the next 12 months.
In-house counsel, TPG Telecom senior corporate counsel Michael Milnes mused, have an “important mission” to protect their companies. That MO, he said, is set to become more challenging as 2024 gets underway, given how rapidly the environment around them is evolving.
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In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, four senior corporate legal professionals detailed what they see as being the “array” of in-house challenges for the year ahead – many of which are familiar.
The list of challenges – including but not limited to regulatory change, possible cyber security threats and data privacy breaches, significant technology adoption and integration challenges, greater geopolitical risks, and increasing competition for talent retention and development – will not come as a surprise to in-house counsel, Sydney Fish Market general counsel Michael Guilday noted, and are not particularly new.
Firstly, the “relentless pace of technological advancement”, notably in artificial intelligence, will remain a paramount concern, Modaxo and Trapeze Group senior legal counsel (Asia-Pacific, Middle East, and Africa) Emilie Franklin espoused, “particularly in understanding its impact on resourcing and workforce dynamics”.
Navigating the legal implications of such emerging tools, including blockchain, “will increasingly demand deep and nuanced understanding of how our organisations touch them”, Virgin Australia senior legal counsel Christopher Doherty said in support.
The evolution of new technology continues to introduce complex legal issues, particularly in connection with privacy and data protection, Mr Doherty said, presenting fresh hurdles for the law department to overcome.
A proactive approach in addressing arising issues, Mr Milnes said, will be required, given that such technologies will only continue to become more and more mainstream.
The “ever-evolving and increasing” regulatory landscape, Ms Franklin argued, “will continue to be an issue at the forefront of mind”, necessitating proactive strategies to anticipate and navigate changes, she said.
From a global perspective, Mr Doherty said in support, the regulatory landscape is becoming more intricate, with varying compliance requirements across jurisdictions.
“Striking a balance between globalisation and localisation can present challenges,” he noted.
This said, wading through the details of rapidly new legal frameworks, regulations, and compliance standards will also require in-house lawyers to remain aware of the bigger-picture social expectations that underpin every company’s licence to operate, Mr Milnes pointed out.
Moreover, Ms Franklin outlined, hiring and budgetary constraints will “persist as perennial challenges”, requiring a delicate balance between legal excellence and fiscal responsibility.
“As organisations strive for operational efficiency, in-house counsel will need to remain flexible and creative in managing resources to meet legal demands while staying within budgetary confines,” she opined.
Cyber security risks will also remain a key consideration, with Mr Milnes surmising such threats will continue to grow in complexity in 2024.
He suggested: “Protecting sensitive customer data and intellectual property are important challenges, and in-house counsel will play a leading role in developing strategies to mitigate risks and respond effectively to breaches.”
Elsewhere, Mr Doherty noted, the demand for sustainability and ethical business practices is rising.
“Legal counsel must guide their organisations to aligning with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards, ensuring compliance and mitigating risks,” he said.
“The increasingly litigious nature of business environments amplifies the need for proactive risk management and fit-for-purpose dispute resolution strategies.”
There are also, of course, idiosyncratic personal challenges to navigate.
Mr Guilday, for his part, expects to continue to face increasingly complex and challenging demands from stakeholders, both from within and outside of his organisation.
To address this, he said, he is aiming “to work on becoming a better listener, including by giving all stakeholders an opportunity to provide feedback and voice concerns”.
“I hope this will help improve the authenticity of my leadership,” he proclaimed, particularly given the “real privilege” he has to work on the “lifetime renewal” of what he called a Sydney icon: the city’s Fish Market.
The role, he said, “comes with a huge sense of responsibility to get things right”.
In the face of so many pressing concerns, Mr Milnes pointed out, another one arises.
The risks of exhaustion and burnout for those in corporate legal, he posited, “have never been greater”.
“It is essential for in-house counsel to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and that of their team – to keep learning and developing new skills, and work with their team to improve the operations and processes that can make their work more efficient,” he submitted.
Ultimately, Ms Franklin reflected, success in 2024 for those in the law department will “hinge on a nuanced approach” that seamlessly integrates legal expertise, technological savvy, and financial prudence.
Doing so will ensure, she concluded, that in-house counsel remain adaptive in the ever-evolving legal landscape.