By Joe Calve

The Association of Corporate Counsel has released a broad new survey, “Global Perspectives: ACC In-House Trends Report,” focused on issues that have a direct impact on the professional lives of corporate counsel. Almost 2,000 in-house lawyers across 53 countries participated, including 81 percent who are ACC members, 31 percent who work outside the U.S. and 28 percent who are the top legal executive (GC or CLO) in their company.

Some of the trends identified, especially in the section on in-house legal/business priorities, are “painfully obvious,” as ACC puts it. Compliance, regulatory and cybersecurity continue to top the list of in-house concerns and, as ACC reports, are driving law departments to divert resources their way.

The stature of in-house counsel, once a perennial concern, is now as high as ever. As ACC puts it, the transformation of the in-house lawyer from a legal functionary to an essential member of the business team seems to have progressed well beyond the point of no return, even in Europe, where in-house status lags a bit in jurisdictions that continue to bar corporate counsel from the bar. Ricardo Cortes-Monroy, CLO of Nestlé Group in Switzerland, points up the absurdity of such lingering protectionism:

“It is so silly,” he says. “I am a qualified barrister in my country and have legal privilege in Chile, the USA, the UK and many others but not in my own second home country, Switzerland.”

The survey digs deepest in the section devoted to in-house careers,
which includes topics such as job satisfaction, mobility, professional
development and compensation. ACC slices and dices the data every which way – by region, gender, industry, age, company/staff size, etc. – which makes some responses intriguing. To give just one example, in-house counsel in the pharma and medical device sectors are much less likely (30 percent v. 81 percent of all respondents) to find their work interesting and engaging. No other industry comes close.

Still, in-house lawyers overall evince strong levels of job satisfaction. More than three in four say they are satisfied with their current jobs, with satisfaction strongest in the telecom, not-for-profit and healthcare sectors, and weakest in finance/banking, where two-thirds rather than three-fourths are satisfied. (One suspects the incessant baying of the regulatory hounds drives down that number.) Regionally, the least satisfied in-house lawyers
are in Canada, and the most satisfied are in Africa and the Middle East. Across the board, most in-house counsel say they are unlikely to leave their corporate careers, particularly if it means going back to work in a law firm – perish the thought! – where the vast majority have done time and are not looking back with fondness. Three out of four were less satisfied at their law firms, compared to a paltry 7 percent who say they were more satisfied. Clearly, billing hours and building business are not big career draws.

What leaps from the numbers is how job satisfaction fails to translate into a strong desire to stay put. As the survey shows, in-house counsel have happy feet; they are ready to switch companies at, more or less, the drop of a hat.

For example, a fairly large slice of respondents – 15 percent of men and 18 percent of women – have changed companies in the last 12 months. Another sizable slice – two in 10 – are poised to move even for a position with the same title, salary and benefits. Dangle a little more money, a whiff of career advancement or other incentives and the number shoots up to more than eight in 10 in-house counsel ready, willing and able to hop jobs. Only 8 percent say flat out that they would not consider a position at another company. That makes in-house lawyers more mobile than workers in most other industries, according to ACC.

What gives? Consider a few more data points. More than 80 percent find their work interesting and engaging. Just as many say they enjoy a positive relationship with outside counsel. Nine out of 10 say their work contributes to the overall mission of their company, and 60 percent say they enjoy the same status as outside counsel – a number that keeps rising. About half say that only occasionally do they put in more hours than they expected, and two-thirds have what one would assume are interesting and challenging cross-border responsibilities. And more than 80 percent say they can live comfortably on their current pay.

So why the happy feet? It’s not totally clear, but the numbers do offer some hints.

Fewer than 25 percent of the in-house respondents have a professional development plan, and four out of 10 have not received meaningful feedback from a supervisor in the last six months. Under half receive recognition on a regular basis. Is that enough for in-house counsel to feel underappreciated? Maybe. Whatever it is, something is spurring otherwise satisfied corporate counsel – men and women alike – to long for greener grass on the other side of the corporate fence.

Where men and women diverge is when it comes to comp. Fewer
in-house women than men are satisfied with their pay, with less than half saying they are adequately paid while more than half of the men say they are. The numbers tell the tale. Women are victims of a pay gap, especially at the upper end of the salary range where in six of seven bands above $199,000, there is a higher proportion of men than women.

Even more interesting are the divergent perceptions. Asked whether there is a comp gap in their jurisdiction, only 8 percent of men say yes compared to 48 percent of women. As ACC puts it, “It’s a dramatic picture of gender pay disparity – yet only 8 percent of male respondents believe it even exists.”

I guess it’s not surprising that in-house men are from Mars and in-house women are from Venus. What does surprise is that this does not creep into the job satisfaction numbers. These are high for women and men alike.

Anyway, there is plenty of food for thought in the ACC Trends Report. Give it a taste.