27 July 2022 | By Marcus M. Schmitt
In-house counsel in the fast lane
Why in-house lawyers are in extremely high demand in companies across Europe and how the profession evolved remarkably in recent years.
In-house lawyers have long been referred to as “the doubters, the corporate brake, the it-depends- department.” It was widely perceived that their legal evaluations slowed down innovation. Nowadays this job description is undergoing its greatest transformation. In recent years, digitalization has made its way into legal departments and made the impossible possible: lawyers who put away their dictation machines and work with apps, databases and artificial intelligence.
These modernized departments then crossed paths with two other mega-trends: ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) and data-centric business models. ESG has fundamentally changed the role of the in-house lawyer. In the blink of an eye, the former doubter became a thought leader, as good conscience is suddenly at the forefront of corporate strategy.
Added to this is the progressive integration of data-driven business models for which the internal legal function is essential for smooth navigation of new complex regulations, which are expected to increase significantly in the next 3 years, according to a recent ECLA study (Data-Driven Business Models, released in June 2022).
In-house lawyers are developing into highly demanded sparring partners in the company with a corresponding effect. While the legal profession as a whole in Germany is shrinking, the number of in-house lawyers is growing at an almost double-digit rate, according to the German Federal Bar Association. More and more general counsel report directly to the CEO. These trends can also be clearly observed in other European countries, where the number of general lawyers is plateauing.
It is high time to put registered in-house lawyers on an equal footing with external lawyers and consultants.
Marcus M. Schmitt is a lawyer and General Manager of the European Company Lawyers Association (ECLA) in Brussels.
This article was first published in German language in the newspaper “Handelsblatt” on 26 July 2022 and can be found here.