'We are in the age of the CLO,' Association of Corporate Counsel says

Legal departments are growing their teams and legal operations are expanding in the face of COVID-19

'We are in the age of the CLO,' Association of Corporate Counsel says

“We are in the ‘age of the CLO’,” the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) said as it revealed the findings of its 2021 Chief Legal Officer Survey.

The survey results indicated that the challenging environment of the previous year has spurred further development of the chief legal officer role as its responsibilities to the organisation expand.

“2020 accelerated the evolution of this role, forcing CLOs to support their businesses’ operations through a global pandemic, the international reckoning with racial injustice and both the new socially distant and online workplaces,” ACC CEO and president Veta Richardson said. “Sadly, none of 2020’s challenges will magically disappear in 2021, but ACC has seen how the global in-house community learned and grew from those challenges. The integral ways CLOs are helping their organisations adapt and move forward shows that the numerous challenges of the past year have only amplified these times as the ‘age of the CLO’.”

The results of the survey, which recorded participation from nearly 950 CLOs across 44 countries, revealed that 78% of respondents reported to their organisation’s CEO. Moreover, in addition to their legal work, the CLO-respondents allocated much of their time to advising on board matters and governance issues, assisting in developing strategies and guiding executives even on non-legal matters – only 28% of CLOs’ time went to legal tasks.

Organisations are acknowledging the value of their legal teams more and more, with 32% of in-house legal departments planning to expand this year despite the volatile environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these departments, 49% expect to be allocating tasks to outside counsel. Over 60% of legal departments have also reported employing a minimum of one legal ops professional, indicating a commitment to bolstering legal operations; 21% of these departments have at least four legal ops specialists on staff, showing a consistent upward tick in this area.

Nearly half of the respondents (46%) were also managing their organisation’s data privacy function, which the ACC said reflects “the growing integration of legal in business strategy and technology policy.”

“In the order of functions reporting to the CLO, only compliance (74%) outranks privacy,” the ACC said.

CLOs also reported greater involvement in environmental, social, and governance issues such as diversity and inclusion (D&I), with 72% of respondents anticipating a boost in D&I initiatives this year. Many respondents are looking to integrate equity and inclusion practices into staffing and operations, the survey revealed.

“The 2021 CLO Survey confirms what we see every day in the organisations with whom we work – that converging market forces in legal operations, privacy, compliance and cybersecurity response are driving an evolution of the role of the CLO,” said Bobby Balachandran, the CEO of legal software developer Exterro. “The successful CLO going forward will have much broader responsibilities and will require a new strategy to proactively and defensibly manage their legal governance, risk and compliance obligations while maintaining and ensuring data integrity throughout their business processes.”

Exterro partnered with the ACC in developing the 2021 Chief Legal Officer Survey.

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