ACC 2024 CLO Survey: The Journey of Today’s Chief Legal Officer

ACC 2024 CLO Survey, in Partnership with Exterro, Highlights CLOs Facing Intense Budgetary Pressures, Ranked Operational Efficiency as Top Strategic Initiative 

The latest findings from the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) 2024 Chief Legal Officers Survey (CLO Survey), conducted in collaboration with Exterro, reveal critical insights into the challenges facing Chief Legal Officers (CLOs) worldwide. With responses from 669 CLOs across 20 industries and 31 countries, the survey sheds light on key issues impacting legal departments and the evolving role of CLOs as strategic business partners. 

One of the top concerns for CLOs identified in the survey is data-related risks, including regulations and enforcement, privacy, and cybersecurity threats. Data breaches, privacy/regulatory enforcement, and other cybersecurity threats emerge as major concerns, with only 9% expressing confidence in their organization’s ability to mitigate emerging data risks. 

Budgetary pressures are another significant challenge facing CLOs, with 42% reporting intense pressure to do more with less. Over half (52%) of CLOs received cost-cutting mandates in the past year, driving a focus on operational efficiency. Operational efficiency ranks as the top strategic initiative, with 40% planning to institute new processes and 45% investing in technology to enhance efficiency. 

The reporting structure of CLOs also came under scrutiny in the survey. While 82% of US-based CLOs report directly to the CEO, the overall percentage decreases slightly to 75% in 2024 due to a larger proportion of respondents from outside the US. 

Expanded responsibilities are another trend highlighted in the survey, with the majority of CLOs (58%) overseeing at least three additional business functions beyond legal. These functions include privacy, ethics, risk, and environmental, social, & governance (ESG). 

Workload and work-life balance emerged as important factors impacting CLOs, with 59% experiencing an increase in workload. However, only 20% of those reporting a significant increase in workload indicated they were happy with their work-life balance. 

AI’s impact on the legal profession was also explored in the survey, with 67% of CLOs believing AI will have a mostly positive impact. Document analysis and drafting documents were identified as areas with the most potential for AI application. 

CEO expectations for CLOs were another focus area, with 38% of CEOs expecting CLOs to develop greater business acumen and industry knowledge, followed by leadership and financial acumen. 

ESG strategy and the evolution of CLO titles were also examined in the survey. While 77% of CLOs report involvement in leading their organization’s ESG strategy, 19% indicate that their organization has no ESG strategy in place. The Chief Legal Officer title is becoming more common, with 28% of participants holding this title—a 7 percentage point increase since 2022. 

“ACC’s industry-leading 2024 Chief Legal Officers Survey sheds light on the fact that CLOs are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult position,” said Veta T. Richardson, ACC president & CEO. “This year’s survey and those in years past have clearly documented the evolution of the CLO role – highlighting that responsibilities continue to expand and diversify as the CLO has become a more integral strategic business partner.  Yet, as CLOs and their teams take on additional responsibilities, they face intense pressure to do more with less.  Squeezing general counsel resources while at the same time expanding their remit is unlikely to be sustainable for the long term.  Improving operational efficiency and investing in new technology will help, but it remains unclear if those efforts will be enough.  What is clear is the unwavering dedication and resourcefulness of CLOs to represent their organizations to the highest standards possible in a complicated and challenging business and regulatory environment.” 

“As the 2024 CLO Survey clearly highlights, CLO’s face a daunting task ensuring their organizations are fully equipped to minimize the risk data poses to their operations,” said Bobby Balachandran, Founder and CEO of Exterro. “The competing pressures of ‘do more with less’ and increased scope of responsibilities dictates a new approach to utilizing people, technology and improved processes to effectively manage legal operations, privacy and data governance, regulatory compliance and cybersecurity response. Exterro is thrilled once again to partner with the ACC to provide this valuable resource for in-house counsel to navigate these difficult challenges.”