2015 was a very busy year for the in-house legal recruitment market with the highest demand seen for several years. This was the case across most sectors and levels, though it remained relatively quiet at the senior end.
In separate research that we have recently undertaken covering NSW, we found that only 15 per cent of general counsel or heads of legal changed role in 2015. This relates to a turnover of these positions approximately every six to seven years.
Many of our clients and candidates have asked us to provide an outlook for 2016 so we again interviewed a range of GCs and legal heads across numerous sectors including financial services, insurance, infrastructure, transport, IT/Telco, FMCG and travel. We discussed their recruitment plans and the biggest challenges and changes on their agenda at present.
When asked whether they plan to increase the size of their legal function this year, 35 per cent said that they intend to increase or may potentially do so. This was up slightly from last year (29 per cent), which in turn was up from 2014. Interestingly though, only 20 per cent of those polled actually increased their team size last year so it may be that there is some deferred activity there.
As mentioned above, last year was a busy year for recruitment, despite the relatively small number of teams that increased headcount, as most roles are created by lawyers moving roles either internally or externally. So it appears likely that this year will continue to be buoyant and provide a range of opportunities in the sector.
By far the most common response in regard to biggest challenges for the year ahead related to efficiencies or doing ‘more with less’. Essentially coping with larger workloads with the same or lower resources while maintaining or improving the levels of quality and service and demonstrating value.
GCs are considering different approaches to combat this issue, several are looking at new information management and documentation systems, reviewing operations, implementing LEAN processes, seeking greater value and training from external firms and developing new cost/retainer arrangements with firms. Others are looking to increase resources through secondments and contract resources that are, where possible, funded by the business or project budgets.
The next most common challenge was seen as coping with increased regulation or ‘regulatory assault’, with regulators switching from regulatory change to enforcement and investigation that is more resource intensive.
This has resulted in some teams providing more compliance training and/or implementing new global compliance programs and reviewing risk profiles. In particular, several highlighted that anti-bribery and corruption compliance are seen as a growing issue.
Others have concentrated their efforts on ensuring that they are recruiting and developing as effectively as possible within their teams. This includes focusing on engagement of their lawyers in order to best challenge and retain them through investing in learning and high performer programs and providing career progression and internal secondment opportunities. Other issues include cyber security, executive restructures, market conditions (both positive and negative changes) and increased litigation.
Daniel Stirling is the director of legal recruitment agency G2 Legal.