Many CIOs may well prefer a swim in shark-infested waters to spending time with their organisation’s corporate legal counsel, but new research shows that they should get used to hearing and seeing more from the lawyers than ever before.
According to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s latest annual Deloitte Forensic Corporate Counsel Survey 2010, the status of corporate legal counsel in Australia has improved substantially over the past five years. Corporate counsel is frequently entrenched as trusted advisors to senior executives — often in preference to external advisors.
“They now hold a broader, more complex range of legal and other responsibilities within the organisations to which they belong,” the survey finds.
The survey’s findings hold up the idea that CIOs must increasingly compete with legal counsel to have their voices heard, with some 63 per cent of general counsel now being members of their organisation’s senior management or executive team, compared to 40 per cent five years ago.
The number of non-legal roles held by a general counsel in an organisation has also increased from about 2.4 roles on average to 3.7 roles in the past five years. The most common non legal roles are company secretarial responsibilities, regulatory compliance responsibilities and risk management responsibilities, the survey finds.
The research shows that many CIOs may be well aware of this power shift, however, and are doing their best to protect their turf. The proliferation in the use of email and other electronic forms of communication is posing particular challenges for corporate counsel, the survey found.
“The majority of survey respondents agreed that they faced challenges when gathering, sorting and preserving electronic information,” the survey report reads. “The most significant challenge faced by corporate counsel over the past five years is the volume of electronic documents (80.5 per cent) followed closely by the time (60 per cent) and cost (55.5 per cent) of gathering the information.
“Gaining the co-operation of business units to access electronic data, and the preservation of legal professional privilege, remain key challenges.”
Deloitte Forensic partner, Nicholas Adamo, said the direct implications of the report on CIOs was that they would need to learn to accept general counsel as a permanent fixture.
“CIOs and general counsel need to work together like never before; in particular the 14 per cent of respondents that have admitted that despite the ever increasing volume of information being generated, their organisation still does not have a policy regarding the management and retention of electronic records. While the number who have policies has grown from 53 per cent five years ago to 86 per cent today, the fact that 14 per cent remain without policies is alarming,” Adamo said.