What are the big concerns facing legal departments this year that are keeping GCs up at night? There were some very interesting insights from Morrison and Foerster’s Fall 2017 Up At Night report, examining the key themes and issues that are pressing on GCs’ minds. We take a look at some of standout results from the study…
#1 GDPR and Other Global Regulatory Challenges
It’s the acronym that’s making every lawyer, regulator and business owner quake, but GDPR is part of a larger picture of global regulatory worries that GCs are facing. A fragmented regulatory environment on an international scale was identified in the study as one of the major causes for concern for legal departments, with 72% of respondents citing regulations and enforcement as a ‘very important’ challenge. The sheer pace of evolution of data security and privacy regulations can leave departments short of the time and resources needed to address the problem. Our advisory article on GDPR offers some tips on keeping departments on track to comply with the new regulations.
#2 Intellectual Property
Along with regulations and enforcement, intellectual property is the subject that has seen the biggest increase in imbalance between time spent on the issue and the level of importance it is deemed to have. Global regulations covering data privacy and intellectual property are themselves playing catch up with the ever-evolving means in which we produce and share intellectual property, so it’s little wonder that GCs are fretting about how to apply current laws to new circumstances, and realising the need to keep up with new enforcements with the same level of budgets and resources. Drilling down further into the responses, 52% of GCs described enforcing IP rights and trademark/copyright infringement as their primary concerns in the realm of intellectual property.
#3 Budgets – Doing more with less
As a more general theme, budget and resources restrictions repeatedly come up as a major concern in all issues highlighted in the study. From risk and crisis management to litigation, the worry for most GCs seems to be the availability of financial and team resources to dedicate to the issues. The needs of the business and the state of the regulatory environment are the primary drivers influencing changes in demand as we can see below.
#4 Resource Crunch
To compound the problem of complex issues and stretching budgets, legal departments are also facing a resource crunch. Many GCs cite that their departments simply do not have the necessary finance, staffing and technology available required to meet the challenges they face. One way to remedy staffing shortages is to increase legal outsourcing and work with legal services companies, such as Obelisk Support, who can provide temporary support for legal teams. Adopting legal technologies can also be an efficient way to speed up and automate repetitive low-skills processes, freeing up valuable lawyer time to deal with more complex issues. For regular updates on Legal Tech, Artificial Lawyer is a good place to start. One particular concern quoted by respondents is the lack of resources to train staff for compliance purposes (see #1 GDPR). Companies will be under pressure to assess their budget priorities to tackle this issue.
#5 Organisational Misalignment
Possibly as a result of resource constraints, there is a suggestion that the time being spent on addressing those concerns amongst GCs is much less than the perceived importance of the issue. It seems that departments are also yet to implement measures to ensure organisations avoid silos of information and procedural overlaps and clashes. With no improvement in the disparity between the Spring and Fall 2017 studies, the conclusion drawn is that legal departments are in danger of becoming overwhelmed, and are yet to find a solution. Reviewing internal processes to streamline and avoid crossovers between departments is a time-consuming but necessary exercise that GCs would greatly benefit from.
#6 Privacy and Data Protection
Becoming ever more pertinent in our daily lives, GCs have a whole range of new and evolving issues relating to privacy and data that can mean very real consequences of litigation, reputation and trust loss. But it’s interesting to see exactly what privacy and data issues GCs are troubled by – and more interestingly perhaps, the ones they appear to be prioritising less. The following shows the percentage of respondents who deemed concerns ‘not important’ – that the lack of necessary technology is not a concern for many is somewhat surprising, considering aforementioned concerns over technological resources, and that legal departments more generally are highlighted as being slow to adapt to new technological advances.
#6 Cyber Security Threats
Cyber security was the biggest and most specific concern under the theme of Risk and Crisis Management for GCs, accounting for nearly 60% of all the risk & crisis management concerns expressed by survey respondents. It is an issue that has seen the most rapid rise to the top of the priority list, so it is little wonder that participants cite resource restrictions as one of the main challenges they are facing in tackling cyber security threats.
#7 Outsourcing Work
Coming back to #4 Resource Crunch, strategic sourcing is a theme connected to the resources constraints and increasing complexity of issues to be tackled. GCs are challenged by the need to source an ever increasing variety of legal expertise, in the most cost-effective manner. It appears that budget concerns are behind many of the decisions to source work to a supplier, as well as the need to bring in expertise that is lacking in the department. We predict that alternative service providers are going to become a bigger part of this picture in 2018 and beyond. North American trends also show that working with legal suppliers who value diversity, inclusion and other responsible business practices will soon be as important as negotiating their budget or scoping the work.
While some of these themes are familiar concerns for GCs, many are on new and unknown legal territory. Without the in-house resources available, GCs are going to need to become more agile to source and make the most of available expertise.