For any corporates clinging to the traditions of city life: long business lunches, entertaining clients and written thank you notes, Covid’s fast track into the digital realm will have been a shock. However, with Zoom calls the new bread and butter of the working day, corporates of all types have had to accelerate their digital transformation plans, and this transition has naturally heralded a whole host of complex legal issues. Enter in-house lawyers.
With hybrid working now a permanent fixture, General Counsels (GCs) must now have more than a passing familiarity with data privacy law to ensure robust compliance for businesses’ hastily constructed remote working practices. In-house lawyers are having to future-proof businesses by taking on more data-focused responsibilities than ever before, particularly in a murky post-Brexit world. However, given the ever-widening scope of GCs’ roles and the ongoing competition amongst corporates for specialist expertise, are businesses willing to pay more for the best legal talent?
Following the money
Technology is currently outstripping existing legislation and finding someone who really understands the risk management agenda for data security, privacy and compliance is integral to managing a successful business. Many multi-national companies have refined their talent radar by sourcing lawyers from big tech companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon. Armed with a tech background, these lawyers can support data scientists by applying a practical, operational understanding of data privacy issues, which they can bring to companies dealing with increasingly sophisticated issues in this field.
This trend is particularly prominent in the pharma sector. According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s recent In-House Compensation Survey, these lawyers with data knowledge rank amongst the top of the salary pecking order.
For instance, the survey found that GCs/CLOs in the biotech sector are paid on average $35,640 more than in the tech sector. It seems that corporates are starting to recognise and compensate GCs who can tame data complexities, which will only become more prominent in the post-Brexit landscape for UK-headquartered companies.
Climbing the corporate ladder: GC+
Employers and in-house lawyers are clearly aligned when it comes to upskilling leading to a larger pay-packet. In fact, GCs are chasing opportunities where available to upskill and negotiate a higher rate of compensation. Data-savvy GCs continue to be in high demand in the current recruitment market, with a lot of competition at the very top of the pyramid as corporates try to retain their top legal talent.
As a result, some GCs are seeking out smaller companies or even start-ups to employ them, as there is less competition for more senior and better paid roles – a trend particularly prominent in the biotech sector. However, what also comes with these roles is a much broader remit. Not a career path for the faint-hearted, GCs are securing positions at the top of the business pyramid and finding that their role has evolved into one of a GC+.
This expanded role transcends legal and compliance oversight and often includes privacy, IT and cybersecurity, HR and supply chain. GCs with data knowledge may not be expert in every subject area but can apply hard analytical skills to deal with key issues such as privacy and compliance and risk management related to technology. Engaging with such a broad range of corporate functions may stretch GCs beyond their comfort zone, but many have been willing to take the plunge based on opportunities for both financial gain and professional development.
Whilst the recruitment market is red hot across many sectors, one thing is becoming clear: legal minds with data and privacy knowledge are highly sought-after, valuable assets to a company. In a buyer’s market where employees have the pick of the bunch, it seems GCs are following the money and are willing to upskill to do so. As data legislation becomes more ever more prominent in boardroom discussions, businesses will have to consider how much they are willing to increase salaries to secure the best data-savvy talent.