Association of Corporate Counsel Census Reveals Power Shift from Law Firms to Corporate Legal Departments

2011 ACC Census Provides Snapshot of Corporate Counsel Demographics,  Law Department Structures, Budget Allocations and Compensation

Posted: Mar 28, 2012

Washington, D.C. (March 28, 2012) — Dramatic economic and business occurrences over the past five years, including the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, signaled the beginnings of a power shift from large law firms to in-house law departments, reported the Association of Corporate Counsel in its ACC’s 2011 Census Report, released today. The ACC’s 2011 Census Report, the only comprehensive industry study providing unique insight into the in-house counsel community, along with ACC's CLO Survey, revealed that budgets for in-house legal departments have increased by more than 18 percent.

In addition, ACC’s 2011 Census Report indicates that in-house counsel are turning less frequently to outside counsel to handle their legal matters and they are handling more work in-house. In 2011, only 20 percent of the in-house respondents turned to outside counsel for tax issues, compared with 30 percent in 2006 and 31 percent in an earlier, smaller survey in 2004. Respondents who went outside for mergers and acquisitions declined from 35 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2011. In litigation, where there has traditionally been a heavy reliance on outside law firms, the number declined from 69 percent to 65 percent.

"Read together, the 2011 ACC Census and 2011 ACC CLO Survey reveal that the in-house profession is growing and having a greater impact within their companies,” said ACC President & CEO Veta T. Richardson. “This increase in responsibilities reflects the evolving role of in-house counsel and the priority they are placing upon serving the business and legal counseling needs of their companies. Despite the diversity of regulatory challenges and heightened level of accountability facing in-house counsel, job satisfaction remains high, as was reported in the ACC CLO survey, which reflects the resiliency and commitment of the in-house bar.”

The ACC 2011 Census Report also reports that, notwithstanding challenging economic times, many in-house counsel experienced a rise in compensation, with 22 percent earning more than $300,000 in salary, bonus and other compensation. Without adjusting for cost of living variations, this is an increase of 16 percent over those earning $300,000+ in 2006, and 57 percent over 2004.  

“Top in-house counsel have proved their value, both in their traditional roles as legal advisors, and in the oversight of outside counsel expenditures,” explained James A. Merklinger, ACC Vice President and General Counsel. “Now, more than ever, they are taking steps to proactively reduce their companies’ outside counsel spend. By implementing value-based billing arrangements and other innovations advocated as part of ACC’s Value Challenge, in-house counsel continue to increase the level of sophistication and assertiveness they employ to achieve the best results for their companies.”

Information about the ACC’s 2011 Census Report is available at: The full report is available for purchase for $495 for members; $695 for non-members. Follow #ACCcensus on Twitter for updates and commentary.

About the ACC’s 2011 Census Report:  The ACC’s 2011 Census Report profiles the corporate, in-house legal profession and tracks industry changes over time. Data was collected on personal career history, positions, compensation, company profiles, use of legal research, products and services, as well as personal demographics. ACC used three sources to find all known in-house counsel for the ACC’s 2011 Census Report, including ACC’s database, Aspen Publishers and LexisNexis. The survey includes responses from 5844 individuals representing 4161 companies collected between April and May 2011. Of the 4161 distinct companies, 3652 were in the U.S. and 267 were in Canada. Nearly one-third of the respondents (31%) were chief legal officers/general counsel; an additional third (32%) held title of deputy general counsel (6%), assistant/associate general counsel-supervisory (15%) or assistant/associate general counsel-non supervisory (11%).

About ACC: The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is a global bar association that promotes the common professional and business interests of in-house counsel who work for corporations, associations and other private-sector organizations through information, education, networking opportunities and advocacy initiatives. With over 29,000 members in more than 75 countries, employed by over 10,000 organizations, ACC connects its members to the people and resources necessary for both personal and professional growth. For more information, visit and follow ACC on Twitter By in-house counsel, for in-house counsel


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