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In-house: Are you moving up or out?

Generation Y in-housers want to develop business skills and play a role in the business, according to James Merklinger, vice president and chief legal officer at the Association of Corporate Counsel.

Generation Y aspire to be part of the business Krasimira Nevenova

Amidst rapid growth, corporate law departments today have also undergone a “changing of the guard.” Chief legal officers (CLO), general counsel (GC) and the rest of the individuals comprising the corporate legal department are often younger and more diverse and have increasingly acquired non-legal, business-focused skills.

GCs and CLOs previously worked separately from the business-side of their organizations and offered legal counsel, while also overseeing the legal department and outside counsel arrangements. Now, they are squarely positioned as business partners who have greater levels of involvement in corporate strategy development. Business management, communication and project management skills are just as vital as legal skills among today’s generations of in-house lawyers.

Being regarded as a business partner is the result of gaining trust and having a seat at the executives’ table, demonstrating that the ability to add value and be strategic is paramount.

In fact, according to the Association of Corporate Counsel CLO 2015 Survey, 69 percent of Generation Y CLOs, compared to 47 percent of Baby Boomer CLOs, reported a desire to develop business management skills in their law departments. Globally, in-house lawyers noted they seek to develop business management (50 percent), communication and listening (48 percent) and emotional intelligence (35 percent) skills.

Job satisfaction is also high across generations of the most senior in-house lawyers, another hallmark of the current global legal landscape. Seventy-nine percent of CLOs/GC stated they were satisfied with their current role within their companies in 2014. Interestingly enough, preliminary findings from our most recent research, the ACC Global Census, show that corporate law department members anticipate a career advancement opportunity in less than two years.

Also, the initial findings signify an openness to career mobility in certain generations, alongside job satisfaction, noting that in-house counsel are progressively seeking ways to export their knowledge and skills to contribute more as both a legal and business advisor to their companies.

Thus, law department leaders need to (even more so now) be cognisant of the plans their staff have for moving up or out. While companies can tap talent globally, they also need to be able to retain them and meet their evolving needs. Make certain there are resources and opportunities available to heighten professional development and remain situated for sustainable growth, efficiency and quality service. This is all linked to lower levels of employee turnover and higher levels of workplace productivity.

James Merklinger is vice president and chief legal officer at the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a global legal association representing more than 35,000 members employed by over 10,000 organizations in 85 countries. For more information on ACC research, visit To participate and share your views in the latest ACC research study, click here.

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16 April 2015

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