The Under-Resourced DGC: Navigating Bigger Burdens with Smaller Budgets
By Susan Jacobson
The role of the DGC is a universally important one to enterprise legal departments. Axiom set out to examine the unique perspective of 200 DGCs at companies with $5M+. revenue. Axiom’s 2023 Deputy General Counsel Survey Report uncovers how DGCs are addressing legal department resourcing amid budgetary constraints and anticipated hiring freezes.
What did our survey reveal? Being a DGC is hard.
While high on the org chart, DGCs believe they are, nevertheless, quite familiar with the day-to-day challenges of the legal department. In fact, most (82%) report feeling more in-touch with departmental resourcing needs than their GC.
What are these front-line DGCs seeing and experiencing?
A parallel crisis of budget cuts and increasingly complex workloads.
Nearly all DGCs (98%) say their legal department budget has been cut as a result of economic conditions and ongoing volatility—including more than half (56%) who say the budget has been cut a great deal. But even as budgets shrink, workloads rise; virtually all DGCs (99%) report their department is seeing an increase in both the volume and complexity of legal matters.
These compounding issues create a perfect storm for DGCs struggling to maintain a staff capable of doing more with less. The vast majority of DGCs (92%) say their department does not have the necessary staffing resources in-house to do its job effectively. Indeed, nearly all DGCs (98%) have seen an increase in attrition in their legal department in the past year, with 41% describing this as a moderate to significant increase.
As headcount shrinks, 37% of the DGCs with an under-resourced department say they don’t have the appropriate staffing bandwidth for their team to do the job effectively, and 30% report they don’t have an effective team structure. Perhaps more alarming, it’s not just that legal departments are generally understaffed, requiring team members to pick up more work. Instead, it’s that many DGCs don’t feel their team is capable of being successful with what they have available to them.
Nearly two in five DGCs (39%) say not having the right legal expertise on the team is preventing them from effectively getting their work done.
If budgets continue to shrink, and workloads continue to rise, more and more DGCs may find themselves in this bind, and they will need to rethink how they source legal expertise to avoid falling even further behind.
The DGC Strategy
What’s a DGC to do? One answer is to turn to flexible talent. It’s an idea embraced by the current crop of DGCs, who represent the next generation of general counsel and, in many ways, the future of in-house law. Sixty-five percent of DGCs see these flexible talent providers as a completely effective solution to their departments’ resourcing challenges. But it’s about more than just using flexible talent for overflow work. DGCs know it’s about recreating the legal department in a fashion that can better navigate economic volatility – and that means a leaner in-house team supported by an always-on bench of flexible talent: the CBF model.
This model allows enterprises to reduce law firm engagements to exceptional, high-stakes events. It also provides a buffer that enables legal teams to determine the optimal moment, during the course of a legal matter, to call on external firms for counsel, or to invest in a full-time hire. CBF doesn’t just control costs; it provides the legal department with better value for every budgeted dollar.
Reach your goals without lowering your standards: Find the right legal talent, with the right level of seniority and most relevant experience.
Susan Jacobson serves as Senior Client Advisor for Axiom. She was formerly General Counsel at Paylocity and Deputy General Counsel of Cardinal Health.
Hong Kong-based Julia Mac has grown as a legal professional and athlete with Axiom’s flexible employment model.
Axiom’s lawyer bench continues to be more diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender than industry standards.
Axiom’s flexible engagement model enables Jean Warshaw to bring her experience in commercial, environmental, and IP law to a wide range of clients.