In-house lawyers 'positive about future'

In-house law teams face a series of challenges as their role continues to change.

With many industries struggling during the economic downturn, the issues facing in-house departments have mirrored those of the organisations as a whole.

Indeed, the latest In-House Attitudes Survey from The Lawyer - in conjunction with Thomson Reuters - has shown the perennial demands of increasing regulation and budgetary restrictions continue to feature prominently in the minds of legal professionals.

On top of this, the changing economic conditions are also causing concern, as legal teams seek to make sure they are able to do their jobs effectively. However, with the UK economy growing by 1.9 per cent in 2013 and the signs for sustainable growth looking good, as it is being underpinned by consumer spending, there are reasons to be cheerful.

So what does the future hold for in-house lawyers?

Management support

One of the keys to a well functioning in-house legal department is being well supported by the management within the organisation. Thankfully, the latest results point to a continued understanding of the importance of this area, as 57.5 per cent of those questioned rated this function four or five out of five. This is the third year in a row it has been around the 57 per cent mark. However, there is clearly room for improvement, as 4.1 per cent of respondents only gave their company one out of five.

Budgets

As already stated, budget restrictions will limit the amount of work an in-house team can carry out. But there seems to be a loosening of the purse strings and the UK economy continues to recover, as in-housers are getting increasingly optimistic about the future. For example, 20.7 per cent expect budgets to take an upturn in the coming year, while 26.3 per are going to be working in teams with legal spend of more than £1 million. For the first time since the survey was conducted, the number of people expecting budgets to shrink was below 20 per cent.

*Software *

Technology is going to change how operations work across legal departments, with big data and the cloud offering genuine areas for improving relations with other sectors and delivering efficiency. The survey discovered that 44 per cent of lawyers are using e-billing software, 48 per cent are using collaboration software and 28 per cent have legal hold software. There are a range of tasks that can be made much easier with software, including monitoring deadlines, document management and matter management.

Pay

Almost half the of the 872 in-house counsel surveyed said they are paid less than £100,000, while more than 50 per cent have some form of performance-related element to their pay. Crucially, the majority of in-house lawyers no longer see their future at private practices, despite the fact they could typically earn more money by making such a move. Indeed, Taylor Root's own research points to the fact that companies now understand that if they want to hire the best legal talent, whether that be from private practice or a similar in-house background, the salary differential between private practice and in-house needs to be addressed.