Despite facing slightly less litigation in 2011 than in 2010, businesses in the United States and United Kingdom are seeing more regulatory actions and internal investigations, according to the Eighth Annual Litigation Trends Survey from international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski.

More than one-third of corporate counsel polled in the U.S. and U.K. by Fulbright report there has been an increase in external regulatory inquiries directed at their companies.

Further, more than one-quarter of respondents expect the year ahead will bring more litigation and regulation as companies attempt to grow in an economy that remains volatile.

In 2011, 40 percent of survey respondents reported that one or more regulatory proceeding commenced against their company, continuing an upward trend that began in 2009.

In both the U.S. and U.K., the rate of regulatory investigations is at a four-year high: 55 percent of U.S. companies (vs. 43 percent last year) and 27 percent of U.K. companies (vs. 26 percent last year) retained outside counsel for an investigation in the past year.

In a press release, Fulbright notes:

This year, our survey confirmed a heightened level of governmental investigations focused on the energy and insurance industries, with the health care, manufacturing and engineering sectors not far behind.”

Looking ahead, Fulbright reports that 91 percent of all respondents expect the number of internal investigations involving their companies to increase or stay the same, while 90 percent of those surveyed expect the number of regulatory proceedings will increase or remain the same.

Respondents in the health care industry (21 percent) were most likely to expect internal investigations to increase, while energy and insurance sectors (both at 35 percent) led the way in anticipating a rise in regulatory proceedings.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on litigiousness.