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Media release

Australian in-house legal teams under more pressure than ever before

Mallesons launches report on issues facing Australia's corporate counsel

Mallesons Stephen Jaques has launched its inaugural report, Compass 2011, which focuses on the issues facing Australia's corporate counsel.  The firm produced the report in partnership with four General Counsel of major Australian companies - NAB, AMP, Wesfarmers and Westfield.

Recognising that the role of corporate counsel is evolving, growing more complex and becoming increasingly important in corporate decision making, Mallesons developed the survey, to which 374 corporate counsel across more than 20 industries responded.  Of those respondents, 44% were General Counsel and 45% were in the ASX 200.

The survey and opinions of respondents consider the role of corporate counsel and their increasing set of responsibilities, critical regulatory issues, law reforms, executive remuneration, continuous disclosure and class actions.

Mallesons partners, Jason Watts and Joseph Muraca, led the project and say that corporate Australia has never had to rely on its corporate counsel as much as it does now.

"Given Australia's complex regulatory landscape, large organisations are increasingly depending on their corporate counsel, often requiring more than just legal advice. As a result, the in-house legal function is one of the few business functions to grow during and post GFC," said Watts.

Muraca added that diverse responsibilities are putting increasing pressure on corporate counsel.

“From handling day-to-day legal work, to managing large teams, complex matters and stakeholder engagement, corporate counsel are stretched.  And with the rise of class actions and increased regulatory investigations, companies rely on corporate counsel more than ever to mitigate legal risk and protect directors who are increasingly in the firing line.

“Over 40% of our survey respondents said they had been subject to a regulatory investigation in the past year,” Muraca said.

As for law reform, Watts said industry-specific regulation is the biggest issue occupying the minds of corporate counsel, with over 95% of respondents saying the process for law reform could be improved, 12% wanting increased consultation periods for new regulation and 15% wanting earlier engagement with stakeholders.

“Our survey respondents ranked state/federal harmonisation and reduction of red tape as being the areas most in need of law reform. Concern over industry-specific regulation of non-executive directors is also highly ranked by respondents,” Watts added.

Interestingly, the report says the billable hour is still the predominant method of billing although almost 30% of respondents have seen the percentage of fees billed at an hourly rate decrease in the last two years.

Other key findings include:

  • 54% expect their in-house legal teams to increase over the next three years
  • 40% said their roles had changed over the past three years with a greater focus on business strategy and legal risk management
  • More than 20% ranked competition concerns as their top compliance issue, together with ACCC investigations
  • 23% said harmonisation of federal and state and territory laws are in most urgent need of law reform
  • 27% considered class actions an issue
  • Over 50% had reviewed their legal advisors in the past 12 months
  • Over 50% said that fees billed at an hourly rate accounted for more than 90% of their legal spend
  • Approximately one third said they were unhappy with their current billing arrangements
  • When asked to rank their top three alternative billing arrangements 82% said fixed fee; 79% said capped fee  and 58% said volume based discounting

Mallesons' Compass 2011 is the first of a series of annual reports.  To view the full report, please click here

For more information please contact Annelise Cleary, Communications Manager: +61 2 9296 3758 or +61 415 178 442

Media enquiries:

Elle Lowe
Senior Manager, Corporate Affairs
T +61 2 9296 3730
M +61 424 168 080​

Samantha Maslen
Manager, Corporate Affairs
T +61 2 9296 3349
M +61 428 469 566​