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General Counsel influence continues to grow in part due to global regulation

Companies around the world continue to be threatened by a growing tide of regulation, according to KPMG which charted the views of 320 in-house General Counsel.

The report, conducted by global research agency Meridien West, interviewed General Counsel from 32 countries who gave their views on a wide range of issues, from relationships with the Board to the risk and regulatory challenges ahead and managing future disputes.

Kathryn Britten, Global Head of KPMG’s Legal Services Sector, said: “Companies are facing a cloud of regulation that is adding a layer of complexity to almost every commercial decision that they need to take”.

General Counsel are increasingly being required to act as the barometer for their organisations, gauging the pressure and helping to scan the horizon for future threats. It is clear that involving general counsel in commercial decision making is now the norm for those companies that are successfully navigating today’s risk landscape.

The need for General Counsel to pick up the mantle is clearly highlighted, with the increase in volume and complexity of regulation flagged as the greatest risk to organisations over the next five years by 90% of respondents.

David Eastwood, Global Head of KPMG’s Contract Compliance Services, said; “The spread of new technology and concerns surrounding data security and protection are growing risks for all organisations but for those in the hi-tech sector the global speed of change brings particular challenges”.

This shift in role to forward-looking commercial consultant has not been without its issues for General Counsel. According to the survey around two thirds of General Counsel are now more involved in business decisions than they were 5 years ago, a very significant move forward. However, there is clearly some way to go, with 80% of General Counsel saying their involvement can reduce the number of disputes and regulatory issues their companies face. It is clear that some organisations still see legal departments simply in terms of their traditional function or as a “necessary evil” – a phrase that was used by around one-third of those interviewed in-depth for the research.

Where this all impacts the recruitment landscape is clear. 1) An increased requirement for lawyers in companies and 2) the requirement for GC’s to adapt to the increasing expectations of their role, focusing as much on business opportunities as well as the legal considerations/ risks.

Mark Levine is the director of in-house at BCL Legal.

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