Ethics and compliance are the top areas of priority for general counsel this year, with 88% naming this as their most pressing issue, according to a well-respected survey from a global bar association.

According to the Chief Legal Officers 2014 Survey for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), more than 30% of legal heads say they are creating positions within their departments to focus on compliance-related work.

Regulatory or government changes (83%) and information privacy (79%), were also identified as key issues this year for the 1,200 chief legal officers from 41 countries surveyed.

Veta Richardson, chief executive of ACC, said: ‘We find that ethics and compliance issues are not only weighing heavily on the minds of chief legal officers, but also boards of directors and senior management around the world.’

He said: ‘Businesses globally are recognising how vital it is to ensure their top priority is abiding by ever more complex regulations.’

Protection of intellectual property (74%), data breaches and protection (72%), technology developments (62%), social media management/governance (59%) and mergers and acquisitions (59%), were also named as key areas of importance.

The survey found in-house budgets are expected to increase by 2.3% for both internal and external spend, up from the 1.9% increase last year.

Some 89% of respondents also intend to develop non-legal skills in their departments, with business management (62%), project management (54%) and communication skills (49%) identified as the most sought-after areas.