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Corporate Legal Trends for GCs to Monitor in 2024

January 10, 2024 (3 min read)
A group of professionals sitting around a conference table in an office building on a sunny day.

Corporate executives were forced to navigate some choppy waters in 2023, from the sudden emergence of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications and ongoing cybersecurity threats to the challenge of managing significant workforce reductions at many large companies.

One common thread for how corporations worked their way through these minefields was the increasingly strategic role of the general counsel.

“For the last several years, in-house work has trended more toward attorneys as business minds and strategic advisors,” writes Elizabeth A. Colombo, an in-house counsel and business law professor. “This trend will continue and pick up steam in 2024 as companies grasp with volatile financial markets and ever-changing world affairs while attempting to run a successful business.”

Looking ahead to the new year, in-house counsel are likely to have their hands full with some challenges that are specific to economic developments within their unique industries, but there are a variety of overarching trends that overlap across nearly all U.S. businesses.

“As general counsel plan for the new year, they expect disrupted sleep over keeping up with artificial intelligence and states’ data privacy laws, as well as navigating anti-diversity litigation and rhetoric, among other issues,” reported Law360® Pulse, in a recent feature story regarding major concerns on GCs’ minds for 2024.

Denelle Waynick Johnson, general counsel at global biopharmaceutical company UCB, told Law360 Pulse that enterprise leadership will be a key trait for GCs in 2024 in order to help their companies navigate the challenges that lie ahead, including the inevitable “black swan” events that can’t be foreseen.

“All of these concerns are bigger and broader than legal,” said Johnson. “It requires me to have this holistic view beyond the law.”

Law360’s Michele Gorman identified four primary topics that corporate law department leaders anticipate will keep them up at night in 2024:

Responsible Use of AI

The commercial launch of ChatGPT in late-2022 touched off a frenzy of both excitement and worry about the potential of generative AI. The subsequent rollout of Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Copilot last year made it clear that AI has arrived and will be a part of the workplace landscape for years to come. GCs will be on the frontline in 2024 when it comes to determining where AI is used across their businesses, as well as creating and managing policies for its responsible use within their organizations.

Surge of Data Privacy Laws

The absence of a federal data privacy law has opened the door for states to tackle the issue themselves; the number of states with data privacy laws on the books more than doubled last year. Not surprisingly, this has led to a “rapidly shifting, Balkanized landscape of data privacy policies,” as the LexisNexis® State Net® Capitol Journal™ reports. This patchwork of data privacy laws will be a major challenge for GCs in 2024, who will be tasked with monitoring new legislation and ensuring their organizations are in compliance within each jurisdiction.

Sustainability of DEI Policies

Diversity, equity and inclusion policies became a major focus of companies in 2020-2022, but the freight train derailed last year. The Supreme Court struck down race-based admissions practices at major universities in June and that one judicial action, unwinding decades of precedent, led to a number of anti-diversity lawsuits brought against major companies such as Starbucks and Target for their DEI policies. Going into 2024, GCs will be forced to grapple with the possible effects of this new case law and the sustainability of their diversity initiatives.

Change in Working Environments

The “Work From Home” mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic years accelerated the slow-growing emergence of the remote workforce — and it appears as though the traditional, mandatory office-based working environment will never be the same. Employers in all industries are struggling with the right approach to take, ranging from traditional in-office policies to remote policies to the increasingly popular hybrid policies. This trend will be a tough one for GCs to monitor in 2024 because it not only affects their organizations’ overall workforce but also the management and development of employees within their own departments.

Whether the major challenges ahead in 2024 come from these key trends or from other unforeseen events, GCs need fast access to the information and tools required to help them mitigate external risks to the enterprise, shape legal strategy and adapt to changing circumstances.

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