From DGC to GC: Climbing the Last Rung of the Legal Ladder
By Susan Jacobson
The Deputy General Counsel position is an important one, for many reasons, but chief among them is because its current occupants represent the next generation of legal leadership. So Axiom set out to examine the career satisfaction of the current crop of DGCs.
The DGC position is a hard role, and the current economic climate certainly isn’t helping. All survey respondents (100%) report feeling stressed or burned out in their current role—including 51% who feel very or extremely stressed or burned out.
That statistic is leading to turnover. Nearly a quarter (22%) of DGCs are actively searching for a new position—and even among those not actively searching, nearly two-thirds (65%) say they’re likely to look within the next year.
Where, or rather what, are they looking for in terms of a new position? Most want to continue what they are doing, just in another setting. Fifty-four percent of DGCs are seeking another DGC role in a different in-house department. In fact, most respondents envision being a DGC for an average of six more years. Others are looking to ascend the ladder in a more accelerated fashion and will be seeking a GC position sooner (37%).
But make no mistake – even if they’re content as a DGC for now, career advancement is a priority. Among the reasons many DGCs are dissatisfied with their current role is what they perceive to be its negative impact on their career progression. Nearly nine in ten (86%) say there are undesirable attributes about their current position. More than two-thirds of DGCs (67%) say limited professional development, advancement opportunities, or lack of a clear career path are the main cause of their dissatisfaction.
As a result, nearly three-quarters of DGCs (73%) feel they’ll need to change employers to advance their careers. There are two major reasons why DGCs would need to leave their employer in order to advance. Either the desired GC seat is already occupied, or they do not believe they are gaining the necessary skills to have a GC-worthy resume. The latter is a clear concern to respondents.
DGCs’ reasons for moving on reflect a simple disconnect between their current role and what it takes to move up. Overall, 96% cite issues with their current position that could negatively impact their career progression. For example, while nearly half (49%) believe they’ll need exposure to the C-suite, including working with senior executives on finance matters and strategic initiatives to advance to a GC position, 71% of those who see the importance of this opportunity say their current position doesn’t offer it. Another 42% say their current position doesn’t provide substantive management experience (such as leadership or cross-functional management of non-lawyers)—something that 39% believe will be required to advance to a GC position.
Despite not having as many opportunities as they feel they’ll need to progress, all DGCs (100%) have gained at least some professional development skills and opportunities in their current position that they’re looking to utilize as they move forward. For the professional development skills and opportunities received in their present role, most say it is because their department or organization ensures access to these for the highest performing lawyers (33%), or they proactively requested relevant professional development opportunities (29%). The fact that these DGCs received these opportunities either by proving their performance or by seeking them out proactively highlights both their skills as well as their ambition.
What Some DGCs Want: A Modern Career Path
When DGCs find their job lacking, they aren’t afraid to sound off. In addition to the career pathing problems cited, many DGCs point to quality-of-life attributes they feel are lacking in the current position: 40% cite limited or no remote work opportunities, more than a quarter cite poor company culture (27%), and 26% cite poor work/life balance (26%) as major reasons behind their diminished satisfaction.
Perhaps that’s why so many DGCs (51%) would look to a flexible talent provider or virtual law firm as a next potential home. Such a role would not only provide them with more of the skill sets they seek for ultimate progression up the legal ladder, but it would also provide a way to address the work environment and work-life balance concerns many are currently experiencing.
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Susan Jacobson serves as Senior Client Advisor for Axiom. She was formerly General Counsel at Paylocity and Deputy General Counsel of Cardinal Health.
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