2009 IN REVIEW Across the board: Peter Turner, ACLA
The year has thrown up some unique challenges and opportunities for law firms and lawyers, as will the year to come. Lawyers Weekly speaks with industry leaders across the legal spectrum about…
The year has thrown up some unique challenges and opportunities for law firms and lawyers, as will the year to come. Lawyers Weekly speaks with industry leaders across the legal spectrum about how the events of 2009 have affected firms and what's in store for 2010. We get the in-house view from Peter Turner, chief executive officer of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA).
What has been the key issue affecting in-house lawyers/legal teams in 2009?
Pressure! Pressure to do more with less, to significantly reduce costs, to get it right first time, to cut corners and to work harder, longer and more efficiently. The GFC hit industries such as banking and finance, mining and resources and construction exceptionally hard. But, across the board, the in-house legal profession showed enormous resilience, reflecting both its now acknowledged capacity to add value and its high level of professionalism.
Surveys during the year showed increased awareness of risk and compliance programs within organisations and greater attention to ethical behaviour. So while law firms let people go, the in-house sector grew, reaching almost 30 per cent of the total profession in NSW.
That said, in-house salaries were down on the previous year and many in-housers felt that their jobs were at risk and/or that their careers were at a standstill.
On the positive side, the GFC presented opportunities for in-house lawyers to revisit and revamp their understandings with external firms and to agree upon alternative, more value-based billing arrangements.
What do you think will be a key challenge/opportunity for in-house lawyers/legal teams in 2010?
Performance! Performance in the face of change as the world emerges from the GFC and new opportunities - and challenges - emerge.
In-house counsel expect to see an increase in regulation and more disputes as outcomes from the recent malaise. Already the ACCC has successfully lobbied to secure the power to impose severe criminal penalties on cartel activity while significant new - and tough - legislation has been or will soon be enacted in other fields such as trade practices, workplace relations, financial services and consumer protection. The business terrain is changing rapidly; not just in Australia but also in all large overseas jurisdictions in which our governments and corporations do business. It behoves in-house counsel to adapt to the new terrain.
A recent study also found that in-house lawyers lag the rest of the profession in the use of technology to automate and streamline work. Perhaps that opportunity will now be taken up?
ACROSS THE BOARD: See how our panel of experts viewed 2009:
>> Top-tier view: Robert Milliner, Mallesons Stephen Jaques
>> Mid-tier view: Andrew Willder, Lander & Rogers
>> Boutique view: John Kain, Kain Corporate + Commercial