2024 Legal Landscape: Six Strategies for GCs to Navigate In-House Counsel Challenges
By Meaghan Johnston
Legal leaders and in-house teams face unprecedented challenges in today's fast-evolving legal landscape. They require adaptability and agility to guide businesses through complexity. The good news: Axiom’s recent webinar, 2024 Legal Landscape: Predictions and Preparations for GCs, sheds a bright light on the current state of the legal industry, emphasizing the crucial role of in-house counsel—and how they’re struggling to uphold that role.
The data shows that in-house counsel are at a tipping point. Indeed, Axiom’s 2023 View from Inside Survey Report uncovered dozens of pressing issues that demand immediate attention. One example: Nearly 90% of in-house counsel are unsatisfied with their current positions, highlighting an astonishingly high state of discontent. Many have said that the Great Resignation is over, but these findings suggest in-house counsel are increasingly inching toward the exit.
The survey, conducted by Wakefield Research, collected responses from more than 300 in-house counsel across all career levels, including leadership roles, mid-level positions, and attorneys, and from more than 15 different industries. It revealed several major resourcing challenges legal leaders encounter, in addition to the flight risks threatening their already-depleted teams.
As a follow-up to the survey, Axiom sponsored an online event hosted by legal industry veteran Zach Abramowitz. Joining Zack for an information exploration of several topics sparked by the study were:
- Andrew Stephens, General Counsel, MongoDB
- Rick Hoel, International Commercial and Privacy Attorney, Axiom
Their conversation explored the underlying causes of job dissatisfaction and provided recommendations for actionable solutions, such as how to manage growing workloads, optimally prioritize tasks, leverage technology to streamline administrative processes, and more.
Overall, it focused on helping GCs address these six major challenges:
- Understaffing and Overwork:
Challenge: Legal industry faces understaffing; 80% of in-house lawyers feel resources are lacking.
Solutions: Invest in tech, outsource, prioritize job satisfaction through flexibility and support.
- Increased Dissatisfaction:
Challenge: Monotonous work, limited strategic roles, and minimal client interaction impact counsel satisfaction.
Solutions: Provide diverse work, clear career paths, and virtual camaraderie for remote work.
- Workload Management:
Challenge: Efficiently implementing workload management poses a significant challenge.
Solutions: Use technology like AI and rethink staffing models.
- Optimizing In-House Support:
Challenge: Increasing headcount isn't always ideal or immediate.
Solutions: Employ flexible talent solutions for tailored legal support.
- Cultivating Opportunities Amid Struggles:
Challenge: The legal industry transition brings challenges and opportunities.
Solutions: Proactively set boundaries, embrace growth opportunities, and maintain work-life balance.
- Evolving Demands:
Challenge: Law firms are the go-to for expertise but are too expensive and not part of the in-house team.
Solution: Utilize flexible legal talent providers.
Get the FULL drill-down on each of these challenges and their solutions. You can watch the on-demand webinar now or bookmark it for later, at no charge. Pressed for time? Continue reading below for quick summaries that expand on each solution to the challenges presented.
With a staggering 90% of in-house counsel expressing dissatisfaction, a crisis is evident. Discontent is pervasive, and is rooted in factors such as understaffing, overwhelming workloads, and struggles to adapt to a changing legal environment. As the business world transforms, the multifaceted role of in-house counsel becomes increasingly demanding, leading to stress and high turnover rates.
The exponential increase in the volume and complexity of legal matters that in-house teams are required to handle is also testing their capacity and versatility, pushing many to the brink of their resources. This is particularly concerning as many legal professionals find themselves dedicating an excessive amount of time to administrative tasks, thereby detracting from their core legal responsibilities.
These challenges are further compounded by the need for practical guidance, institutional knowledge, and efficient administrative management. While hiring more full-time employees or outsourcing to law firms are common solutions, they often fall short. The recruitment process is time-consuming, and the cost of external counsel can be prohibitive. Moreover, outside counsel might lack the intimate business knowledge needed to provide effective advice
The Six Pervasive Challenges Legal Leaders Face—and the Solutions to Overcome Them
1. Understaffing and Overwork
Challenge: The legal industry grapples with a crisis of understaffing and overwork, as 80% of in-house lawyers feel their departments lack resources. Traditional approaches fall short, burdening junior lawyers. Urgent changes are needed to retain talent.
Solutions: Legal leaders can overcome understaffing and overwork by investing in technology and outsourcing, fostering job satisfaction through flexible arrangements, professional development, and supportive work environments. Legal leaders must prioritize the well-being of their teams for overall business success.
2. Increased Dissatisfaction Rates
Challenge: Three primary issues impact in-house counsel dissatisfaction: monotonous work, limited strategic involvement, and minimal client interaction.
Solutions: Provide diverse work opportunities, clear career paths, and training. Remote work challenges are addressed through fostering virtual camaraderie, but balancing client needs and setting clear boundaries is also crucial.
3. Workload Management
Challenge: While effectively managing growing workloads involves setting boundaries, there is still a significant challenge when considering how to implement this workload management in the most efficient way.
Solutions: Effective workload management can be done by leveraging technology and rethinking traditional staffing models. Employing technology like AI can streamline administrative tasks, but building human relationships remains crucial. For instance, while delegating administrative tasks to AI to alleviate and prevent burnout, legal professionals must continue to embrace new skills. External legal service providers like flexible talent can aid in this workload management, contributing to professional growth.
4. Optimizing In-House Legal Support
Challenge: Increasing the in-house legal team's headcount may not be the ideal solution. The process of hiring and onboarding new staff can be lengthy and does not address the immediate needs of the team. Moreover, the team's needs may require more part-time help than full-time hires. Even without hiring freezes, finding the right lawyer to meet the team's needs can be a challenge.
Solutions: A flexible approach, such as engaging legal talent providers such as Axiom, offers tailored legal support to the internal teams. Exploring task-based solutions revolutionizes in-house teams, freeing them for strategic work
5. The Need to Cultivate Opportunities Amid Struggles
Challenge: The legal industry is currently in a state of transformative flux. This transition brings forth a set of challenges, yet simultaneously opens a wealth of opportunities for in-house counsel. The current discontent within the industry doesn't denote a crisis, but rather an opportune moment for businesses to introspect and revamp their legal strategies and resources.
Solutions: An evolving legal industry offers opportunities for growth and innovation, so proactive strategies, including setting boundaries, prioritizing tasks, and embracing new experiences, contribute to career growth. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance and adapting to new opportunities remain essential.
6. Evolving Demands
Challenge: Navigating the evolving demands of the legal profession requires leveraging technology, nurturing a problem-solving culture, and rethinking staffing models. While law firms provide expert advice, day-to-day legal support is best handled by an in-house team, which isn’t feasible within the team’s bandwidth. Challenges faced by in-house teams can be transformed into opportunities with the right mindset and proactive approach. If law firms are expensive and cause headaches to the internal team, what’s the right answer when in-house teams are at capacity but need external support?
Solution: Flexible legal talent providers.
Andrew’s Perspective on Why Flexible Legal Providers Are the Right Choice to Overcome These Challenges:
Why not law firms?
Andrew contends that external legal counsel is not a suitable remedy for handling overflow work due to various reasons. He emphasizes the deficiency in their understanding of a specific business, while managing multiple clients across diverse industries. Andrew notes that law firms excel in providing expert advice for particular issues but fall short when it comes to routine overflow work. Drawing from his own experience negotiating agreements, he highlights the significant difference between dealing with external lawyers, who may lack a comprehensive understanding of an agreement's overall purpose, and in-house lawyers.
Why not more headcount?
Examining the option of increasing headcount, Andrew suggests that its effectiveness depends on the nature of the problem and the potential contribution of a new role. While it might be a viable solution for well-defined roles, it may not universally apply. Additionally, in an economically constrained environment, decreased budgets and frozen headcount are becoming the norm.
Why is flexible legal talent the answer?
Andrew points out Axiom's unique position as a middle-ground solution. Axiom's flexibility in engagement, offering part-time, full-time, temporary, or hourly arrangements, allows for seamless integration into a business. Andrew sees the company’s adaptability as a valuable solution, combining external expertise with an in-depth understanding of a company without the need for repetitive explanations of business intricacies. Ultimately, Andrew believes that flexible legal talent offers the best of both external and in-house roles, making it an effective solution for managing overflow work.
💡 Help your in-house team operate more effectively.
Meaghan Johnston is a writer with more than a decade's experience analyzing legal and healthcare industry trends.
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