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Majority of GCs have ‘unmanageable’ workloads, are under-resourced

The role of an Australian general counsel is only getting harder, with many deeming the workload “unmanageable”, a new report has revealed.

user iconLauren Croft 15 August 2023 Corporate Counsel
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The vast majority of general counsel across the country are overworked, under-resourced, unsatisfied and stressed, new research from Axiom has shown.

The in-house legal recruitment platform recently partnered with Wakefield Research to conduct a survey among 300 Australia-based GCs at companies with US$350 million-plus in annual revenue, across 20 industry sectors.

Seventy-nine per cent of those surveyed said that their workload was “unmanageable”, and 76 per cent said their teams are under-resourced, with almost half (48 per cent) reporting being unsatisfied in their current role and 96 per cent feeling stressed in those same roles.


“GCs across the globe are struggling to do more with less. The Australian legal leaders we surveyed are all in the same boat, amidst a storm that’s testing the ship’s seaworthiness,” the report stated.

As a result, the report noted that there are three key takeaways from the survey: GCs are struggling to navigate budget cuts and hiring freezes, are “stressed and dissatisfied” with their careers, and are sceptical that either law firms or internal hires can address their resourcing concerns.

Seventy-two per cent of Australia-based GCs have experienced budget cuts as the result of economic uncertainty. Further, the majority of Australian GCs report their team is seeing an increase in both the volume and complexity of legal matters. Despite this, 61 per cent said they believe a hiring freeze is likely moving forward, with 12 per cent confirming this has already happened within their teams.

“As with their global peers, Australian GCs are facing a parallel crisis of budget cuts and increasingly complex workloads. On average, Australian budget cuts represent 4 per cent of company revenue – which in real dollars is significant,” the report added.

“Australia-based GCs have seen their budgets shrink by $4.3 million. This is despite the fact that 85 per cent of Australian GCs report their department is seeing an increase in both the volume and complexity of legal matters. These compounding issues create a perfect storm for GCs struggling to maintain a team capable of doing more with less.

“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 GCs don’t feel their team is capable of being successful with what they have available to them – more than one-third (38 per cent) of Australia-based GCs feel they do not have the right legal expertise on their team to address current or anticipated legal needs.”

Additionally, 61 per cent of GCs said they do not feel they are respected by peers as a “strategic business partner”, and 95 per cent said that “their inability to demonstrate value to management (in real economic terms) is contributing to their dissatisfaction”. This contributes to the fact that 24 per cent of GCs are currently seeking the same position in a different environment.

“Seventy-one per cent of Australian GCs are open to finding a new position, including the 26 per cent who are actively looking. Additionally, 32 per cent of those who are not yet currently looking say they are highly likely to do so in the next year. Where are they looking? Perhaps unsurprisingly, based on current concerns with work/life balance and corporate culture, many are looking to leave the law altogether. Many others are looking to assert more autonomy over their careers by joining flexible talent providers,” the report stated.

“And for 79 per cent of Australia-based GCs, their most acute functional pain point is trying to manage an ‘unmanageable’ workload. They need support – the kind of support they believe is unattainable given dwindling resources and headcount freeze; the kind of support that is unaffordable in the traditional ‘staff up or send out’ paradigm.”