By Erin Geiger Smith
Nov 21 (Reuters) - General counsels see regulation as the
biggest risk facing their companies today, according to a new
The report, released this week by KPMG, surveyed 320 general
counsels in 32 countries and provided excerpts from 16
additional interviews with the general counsels of large global
organizations. It was KPMG's first survey of this kind.
Sixty-four percent of the respondents said regulation was
the top time-taker for their in-house team, and nearly 90
percent expected both the volume and complexity of their
regulatory work to increase in the next five years.
The general counsels' experience dealing with regulators and
identifying potential problems is, in turn, elevating the top
lawyers' role within corporations, the report said. Corporations
increasingly are using the GC as a "barometer" who can and
should participate in overall strategic operations.
In North America, 74 percent of the surveyed GCs said they
were more involved in business strategy than five years ago, and
96 percent said they thought they could reduce risk for their
employers if they were involved in business decisions at an
"General counsel in North America still see a gap between
where they could contribute and how much they are contributing,"
said Bryan Jones, head of KPMG's global dispute advisory
services. That gap is much smaller in places like Western Europe
and Latin America, the survey showed.
One measure of the influence of GCs is their direct access
to the board of directors. Of the participating GCs, 81 percent
said they either sit on the main board or participate in and
report to the board. Several of the GCs interviewed stressed the
importance of communicating with the board in their own
A GC who can not only recognize risk and opportunity but
translate that "into crisp business language that colleagues who
are not lawyers can readily understand," is more of an asset to
the board, one GC told KPMG.
The top lawyers could provide even greater value if they
could identify potential new-technology problems their company
might face, said Jones. More than 75 percent of GCs said that
new technology, including social media and cloud storage, were
either just a "slight risk" or "no risk at all."
Such a sanguine view of new technology does not square with
concerns Jones said he has heard from chief privacy officers,
technology team members and chief financial officers.
"That's an area where a GC can talk to other people in their
organizations and figure out where the risks are that no one
sees," he said.
In managing risk, general counsels tend to rely more on
their in-house staff rather than on outside counsel, the report
said. When GCs were asked about the three main steps they take
to effectively manage risk, 69 percent said their top priority
was training their in-house teams, while only 16 percent said
they sought advice from outside attorneys as one of those main
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