In-house legal departments have grown by one-third in the past year, a survey by an international recruiter reports today, with 65% expecting further expansion by 2016.

According to the Legal Department Benchmarking Survey 2014 from Laurence Simons, legal departments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have an average of 16 lawyers, compared with 12 in 2013 and 10 in 2012.

Two-thirds expect to increase in size over the next two years: one-quarter have already recruited externally this year.  

In what Laurence Simons called ‘a sign of growing confidence’, no respondents expect headcount to fall.  

The expansion of in-house legal teams is being driven by rising internal budgets, with 45% of departments expecting internal spend to grow over the next year, compared with just 33% who thought the same about external budgets. 

‘The past two years have seen a significant expansion in the areas of legal work carried out in-house, with substantial increases across the board,’ the report said.

‘Specific areas of specialism such as taxation have seen the number of internal departments carrying out such work double – 16% are responsible for tax activity in 2014, rising from 8% in 2012.’ 

There has also been a clear focus on corporate and commercial activity – now practised by 87% of in-house teams, compared with 86% in 2013 – and bribery, corruption and compliance – up from 64% in 2013 to 69% in 2014.

Naveen Tuli (pictured), global managing director of Laurence Simons said: ‘Many firms are choosing to take a long-term perspective by hiring more internal staff and increasing legal expenditure, rather than send out work to private practices.

‘From a budgetary standpoint, fixed workforces allow for greater stability when it comes to planning and forecasting compared to the ad-hoc casework often carried out by law firms.’