CLOs are facing intense budgetary pressures: how to cope?

The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) 2024 Chief Legal Officers Survey (CLO Survey), in partnership with Exterro, the leading data risk management software solution for minimizing risks posed by litigation, privacy regulations and cybersecurity threats, offers unique insights into: a) the biggest challenges CLOs face at the legal department and organizational level and b) how the CLO role and responsibilities continue to expand as a critical, strategic business partner.

Main data emerging from the survey

This year’s respondents shared that regulations and enforcement, privacy and data security, and cybersecurity threats are the top three issues keeping them up at night. Specifically, thirty-four percent of CLOs reported that data breaches are the biggest data-related threat to mitigate in 2024, followed by privacy/regulatory enforcement (32 percent) and other cybersecurity threats (24 percent). Forty percent said that they plan on instituting new processes to help defend against these threats. Despite years of focus and spending on data-related threats, just nine percent of respondents are “very confident” in their organization’s ability to mitigate emerging data risks.

At the legal department level, 42 percent of CLOs said they continue to face intense budgetary pressure to do more with less.  In fact, fifty-two percent shared that their legal department received a cost-cutting mandate from their organization over the past year.  This pressure may help explain why forty percent of CLOs rank operational efficiency as their law department’s top strategic initiative for the coming year. To improve efficiency, 45 percent of CLOs say they will invest in new technology and 27 percent say that greater collaboration with the organization’s overall operations department would improve business outcomes.


“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.”

More numbers

The survey’s additional key findings include:

  • Work remains to help ensure CLOs internationally report directly to the CEO. This year’s results are based on a larger proportion of respondents from outside of the US than in years past. Therefore, while the percentage of CLOs in the US who report directly to the CEO went up slightly (82 percent in 2024 compared to 81 percent in 2023), those outside of the US went down (63 percent in 2024 compared to 66 percent in 2023).  This resulted in the overall percentage decreasing slightly to 75 percent in 2024 from 77 percent in 2023.
  • Majority of CLOs (58 percent) oversee at least three additional business functions beyond legal, with 27 percent overseeing five or more. These most commonly include areas such as privacy (44 percent), ethics (43 percent), and risk (38 percent), but also can include areas such as environmental, social, & governance (ESG) (24 percent), government affairs (22 percent), cybersecurity (14 percent), and human resources (14 percent).
  • Majority of CLOs experienced an increase in workload, with fifty-nine percent reporting workload “increased significantly” or “somewhat increased” over the past year and just three percent saying their workload decreased. Fifty-nine percent say they are “happy” or “very happy” with their work-life balance. However, only 20 percent of those who experienced a significant increase in workload say they are happy with their work-life balance.
  • Sixty-seven percent of CLOs believe that AI will have a “mostly positive” or “somewhat positive” impact on the in-house legal profession. The legal applications identified with the most potential to benefit from AI are in document analysis (35 percent) and drafting documents (28 percent).
  • Thirty-eight percent of CLOs say that their CEO would like them to develop greater business acumen and industry knowledge, followed by leadership (28 percent), and financial acumen (24 percent).
  • Approach to ESG remains widely variable, with 19 percent saying their organization has no ESG strategy.  Although 77 percent of CLOs report being involved in leading their organization’s ESG strategy, just 29 percent say they are “very involved,” and 36 percent say they are “somewhat involved.” CLOs are more actively engaged in ESG strategy outside of the US with 91 percent having some degree of involvement, compared with 70 percent in the US.
  • The Chief Legal Officer title is becoming more common, with 28 percent of participants holding the “Chief Legal Officer” title—an increase of 7 percentage points since 2022.

The survey analyzed data from 669 CLOs across 20 industries and 31 countries.