A wide-ranging survey of Asia-based corporate legal professionals sheds light on interesting trends and gives some clues as to which way the industry is heading. Certainly, more work is moving in-house, while clients are growing more discerning about the firms they employ.
The survey, conducted by Asian Legal Business, a Thomson Reuters magazine based in Singapore, was open between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31, 2015. More than 200 in-house counsel from across the Asian region (excluding China and Australia/New Zealand) took the survey. Among the final list of respondents, those based in North Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan) slightly outnumbered those in South and Southeast Asia by 52 to 48%.
Asia’s in-house counsel have spoken. More than 200 corporate legal professionals took the ALB In-House Survey 2016, which quizzed them on a variety of subjects, including the work that’s keeping them busy, the technology they’re using and how their relationships with external counsel are evolving. The results were most illuminating, offering a snapshot into the way the region’s legal industry is headed.
For starters, 93% of respondents say that their in-house legal teams will either increase or, at the very least, stay the same. Additionally, 44% describe their team as “highly internal,” which means the company has a highly developed in-house legal function that relies very little on external resources. Combined, these underscore the fact that an increasing amount of work is being carried out in-house. “These days, almost every part of the business is expected to manage costs and expenses,” says Jil Leong, Hong Kong-based Assistant General Counsel at Thomson Reuters. “Legal teams are no different.”
But it’s not just budgeting pressures that are driving the work in-house. More than half (54%) of survey respondents observe that it is regulatory or governmental changes that keeps their departments most busy, and 42% cite ethics and compliance issues. Leong points out that the increase in regulatory and compliance functions that in-house teams have to carry out is also a factor. “A law firm can give you guidance and advice around the changing regulatory landscape,” says Leong. “But for day-to-day monitoring and enforcement, there is typically a heavy reliance on your in-house team.”