Majority of global CLOs see in-house budgets shrink, workloads increase, ACC survey shows

Pressure to do more with less is increasing focus on operational efficiency and tech

More than half of CLOs report an increase in workload Shutterstock

Chief legal officers around the world are facing intense budgetary pressures, with more than half saying their legal departments had received a cost-cutting mandate from their organisations over the past year, according to an Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) survey.

The ACC 2024 CLO Survey, in partnership with Exterro, revealed that 42% of CLOs say they are expected to do more with less, with 52% being ordered to cut costs. More than half of respondents (59%) also said their workload had either increased significantly or somewhat increased. Another 58% said they oversee at least three additional business functions beyond legal, with 27% overseeing five or more – the most common being privacy (44%), followed by ethics (43%) and risk (38%).  

Veta Richardson, ACC president and CEO, said: “Squeezing general counsel resources while at the same time expanding their remit is unlikely to be sustainable for the long term. Improving operational efficiency and investing in new technology will help, but it remains unclear if those efforts will be enough.”

Against this backdrop, 40% of CLOs ranked operational efficiency as a top strategic initiative, with 45% saying they need to invest in new technology to achieve that. More than a quarter of CLOs (27%) also said that more collaboration with their organisation’s operations team would improve business outcomes.

Most CLOs are optimistic about the potential for AI, with 67% believing that AI will have a mainly positive or somewhat positive impact on in-house teams. Just over a third (35%) said document analysis would be the biggest potential benefit of AI, followed by document drafting (28%).

The majority of CLOs (77%) say they are involved in leading their organisation’s ESG strategy, with 29% saying they are very involved, however CLOs outside the US are more actively engaged on ESG strategy (91%) than their peers in the US (70%).

There were also regional disparities when it comes to reporting structures. In the US, 82% of CLOs report directly to the CEO, compared to just 63% internationally.

Bobby Balachandran, founder and CEO of Exterro, said: “The competing pressures of ‘do more with less’ and increased scope of responsibilities dictates a new approach to utilising people, technology and improved processes to effectively manage legal operations, privacy and data governance, regulatory compliance and cybersecurity response.”

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