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3 In-House Trends to Expect in the New Year

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 28, 2016 2:58 PM

As 2016 comes to a close, what does the new year hold for in-house counsel?

Our crystal ball is on the fritz, but we have a few solid predictions nonetheless. Attorneys in corporate legal departments can expect some current in-house trends to continue strong in to 2017, as companies, for example, continue to place more responsibility on in-house counsel. But big changes could be ahead, too, largely due to the incoming presidential administration which has promised to turn long-standing regulations (and practices) on their head.

1. Uncertainty

After eight years of President Obama, what will a Trump administration look like? We're still guessing. Whether Trump will follow through on campaign promises to repeal Obamacare or upend longstanding international trade agreements remains to be seen. There's still plenty of unknowns around where, when, and how Obama-era regulations will be revised or reversed. And that's just the undoing. A lack of specific policy positions means that there's not much solid information about what you can expect to take their place.

Which means one thing for in-house attorneys: a lot of uncertainty. Expect big changes to come in 2017, but don't expect to know just how they'll play out anytime soon. In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing.

2. More Work Being Handled In-House

Companies have been giving in-house legal departments more and more responsibility for several years now, and there's no reason to think that trend will go away in 2017. Part of this is wanting to reduce the expense of outside representation. Part is wanting more input from the company's lawyers.

According to a study released this summer by the NYSE Governance Services and BarkerGilmore, more than 70 percent of surveyed officers and directors expect in-house counsel's most valuable role to shift to "acting as adviser to the board and the CEO," rather than an ethical or governance sounding board.

3. An Increased Turn to Technology

With more matters handled in-house, corporate legal departments are becoming unlikely legal tech centers. Technology is playing an increasing role in in-house legal work, with database administrators now working side-by-side with more traditional lawyers. Even less tech-forward legal departments are increasingly turning to technology to reduce costs, implementing things like e-billing and document management. Expect these trends to accelerate in 2017 and perhaps even to spread outside of corporate law departments as in-house lawyers demand greater efficiency from their outside counsel peers.

Have your own ideas about what's ahead for the industry? Let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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