Association of Corporate Counsel surveys paint complicated picture of in-house counsel and their law departments

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Modern history has never seen a year like 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting millions of lives and continues to rattle global markets and economies. It’s incredible to think general counsel (GCs) and chief legal officers (CLOs) around the world must steer their companies through the economic upheaval with limited facts, and what feels like unlimited uncertainty. Analyzing risk and guiding strategy in this environment feels akin to driving through heavy fog for most of the year: unsure what lies ahead, how close or how far you are to reaching your destination. The CLO’s position is difficult at the best of times, but these days have been unprecedented.

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) recently ran a series of informal member flash polls, canvassing a random selection of our international members on a variety of COVID-related topics. These surveys help us gain a better understanding of what the international in-house community is facing during this pandemic. Less obvious than it sounds, “What they’ve faced” is complicated. The surveys covered everything from internal communications policy, to continuing legal education, and budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. The collection of surveys sheds some light overall on how corporate legal departments are navigating the current conditions. Specifically, two recent studies focused on bringing us closer to understanding how in-house lawyers themselves are holding up.
These surveys covered the state of in-house health and wellbeing, and job security and talent management, respectively.
In the poll gauging health and wellbeing a strange contradiction immediately jumped out. Not surprisingly, one-third of in-house lawyers feel that their level of burnout is “high” or “very high.” When you add those who responded “moderately” burned out, the number increases considerably to three out of four.
However, despite the high levels of burnout, the vast majority of in-house lawyers also report to be doing well emotionally:
Despite working more hours, the overwhelming majority of respondents still report positive feelings toward their company.
One might say these results speak to the resiliency of in-house lawyers. It is in part thanks to their training and discipline that, while in-house lawyers work incredibly hard, they are able to see the big picture and stay positive. Additionally, despite feeling burned out, in-house lawyer are able to remain in good spirits overall and are dedicated to their organizations.
ACC’s fifth member flash poll assessed job security and talent management. This poll also offers some good news to law departments: most in-house positions seem stable, and fewer than one lawyer in five is looking for a new job:
While individuals may report feeling optimistic, the same may not be true for the law department or the organization in general. COVID-19 is impacting law department talent needs in a variety of ways. For two out of three departments, this means hiring freezes, compensation reductions, furloughs, or layoffs.
Nearly as many law departments have stopped hiring as have gone on without changing their staffing.
So how are in-house counsel faring? While we are still in a bit of a fog, and the end of the pandemic is not in sight, in-house counsel are still feeling largely optimistic, despite being overworked, hiring freezes and budget cuts.

For that, we are thankful: the modern in-house lawyer evolved for conditions like these, when risk analysis and legal or regulatory considerations have melded into each other. It’s a healthy sign that in-house counsel are up to the challenge of the changing business landscape. This is a good indicator for companies: if the law department can successfully weather the storm, other functions have a lead to follow.
Check out:
The ACC In-house Wellness & Support Portal, and
The Career Resources for In-house Counsel.

Questions? Please contact Giuseppe Marletta and Antje Teegler.

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