Career mobility and developing talent across the legal profession

By Veta T. Richardson, Association of Corporate Counsel
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Career mobility is a natural progression in the professional journey of an in-house counsel. From higher pay and promotion to growth and development opportunities, corporate culture and working life balance, the employment environment inherently defines in-house experience. Increasingly, lawyers are either on the move or planning to change careers. According to the 2015 ACC Global Census, 64% of in-house lawyers would consider leaving current positions for new ones elsewhere to advance their careers. Just two years later in the 2017 ACC In-house Trends Report, this figure is even higher, with 74% of in-house counsel saying they would leave for an advancement opportunity, while 20% stated they would consider positions with similar titles, salaries and benefits at other companies.

1-VETA-T.-RICHARDSON-全球企业法律顾问协会-主席及首席执行官-President-and-CEO-Association-of-Corporate-Counsel
VETA T. RICHARDSON
President and CEO
Association of Corporate Counsel

Industry research does show that overall job satisfaction is positive across the profession. More than four in five in-house lawyers have expressed job satisfaction and 43% of in-house lawyers globally are satisfied with their companies’ formal professional development plans. They also agree that the nature of their work is engaging and contributes to the mission of the company. However, more can be done to help lawyers move the needle forward with regard to involvement in a company’s strategic and operational activities.

As they undertake more cross-border work in the year ahead, as well as adapt to evolving laws and regulations, and enhance their professional capabilities, it is of critical importance for the leader of the law department to build a strong legal team and position it as an integral part of the business.

As in other global markets, multinational companies operating in China are moving away from outsourcing work to law firms towards insourcing to corporate law departments able to handle complex issues. Legal leaders are increasingly concerned about developing staff able to understand local nuances, as well as global trends and ethical norms and requirements. This trend is only expected to grow as in-house lawyers seek roles involving more strategic business decision making.

To help meet these needs in the Asia Pacific region and worldwide, we have developed a master class for rising general counsel (ACC Executive Leadership Institute) and an exclusive global forum for chief legal officers to collaborate and share ideas (ACC General Counsel Summit). We are also hosting the inaugural ACC Asia Pacific Annual Conference on 11 April 2019, featuring sessions on substantive law, practice management and professional skills, innovation, and legal technology. More broadly, we continuously focus on expanding targeted, region-specific content to ensure that in-house counsels and our members in the region remain ahead as they advance in their careers.

Corporate lawyers also strongly believe their colleagues outside the law department perceive them as trusted, valuable resources for solving business problems, strategy discussions, and risk assessments. We continue to hear that managing legal matters for the company, providing input towards strategic business decisions and counseling the chief executive officer are the top three ways in which in-house counsels drive value within their organizations. In fact, 58% of respondents to the ACC In-house Trends Report said they now enjoy the same professional status as law firm counsels, though this is lower, at 25%, in the Asia Pacific region. Specifically, Chinese in-house counsels are now viewed as key contributors to company bottom lines, adding value to strategies and employing sound corporate governance — an evolving trend over the past couple of decades. Talented employees and the corporate knowledge they possess are assets for every company. As such, providing meaningful feedback and recognition are key to building a committed team prepared to meet at the intersection of innovation and risk.

As businesses enlarge their footprints across borders and collaborate with foreign counsels, there is a greater need for in-house lawyers practicing in multiple jurisdictions to access readily available solutions to provide efficient legal guidance that is both wide reaching and global. Of the in-house lawyers around the world, 62% have multinational work responsibilities. This figure is even larger in the Asia Pacific region, where 82% note that they handle cross-border matters as part of their roles, according to the ACC Global Census report.

As part of our focus on raising the profession’s standards globally, ACC and the Government of Dubai Legal Affairs Department recently developed an innovative, first-of-its-kind credentialing programme to create consistent best practices and standards for all in-house lawyers in the countries forming the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Although the programme is currently offered only in Dubai, in-house lawyers around the world are welcome to attend to become certified in-house. In fact, students from seven countries were among the first graduating class. We also recently formed ACC Hong Kong to create new global connections, as well as to offer cross-border professional development opportunities, resources focused on the law and business in multiple jurisdictions.

Successful business and legal leaders today recognize that recruitment must be followed by investment in growth and development to retain top talent. By investing in their staff, leaders are able to have the right individuals in the right places, as well as maintain agile business functions ready to support a company’s growth and deal with any likely risks.

Veta T. Richardson is president and CEO of the Association of Corporate Counsel, the largest global legal association for in-house counsel, spanning 85 countries and more than 43,000 members. 

Richardson is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School where she co-teaches a course on InHouse Counsel: Law and Practice. She has been named four times to the National Association of Corporate Directors Directorship 100 – a listing of the most influential people in corporate governance.