More than half of general counsel in Africa now have direct input to business strategy

DLA Piper survey explores changing role of general counsel in Africa

More than half of general counsel in Africa now have direct input to business strategy

DLA Piper Africa, in partnership with The Legal 500, has published its inaugural WIN (What In-house lawyers Need) Insights Report for Africa and associated benchmarking report. The reports are based on in-depth conversations with some of the continent’s leading general counsel in addition to a survey of over 300 in-house lawyers across Africa. Both reports explore the changing role of general counsel in Africa, team structures, the war for talent and the use of technology.

  1. The changing role of the GC in Africa

Over the past ten years, general counsel across the world’s financial centres have seen a dramatic change in their roles, becoming trusted advisors to business, key figures in corporate leadership and managers of legal teams that can, in some cases, exceed the size of an international law firm. All while stepping further away from traditional legal work to engage and often lead the way within their organisations on a range of business-critical issues.

DLA Piper’s survey shows a clear picture of just how important the role of general counsel has become with over half (57 percent) stating that the most senior lawyer within their organisation now had a direct input to business strategy, while 79 percent said they felt the role of in-house lawyer had expanded in recent years.

  1. Structuring legal teams for success

The survey found that Africa’s legal teams are divided fairly evenly between those operating from a central team with responsibility for all matters across Africa (37 percent), those preferring a decentralised model with lawyers embedded on the ground (30 percent) and those that take either a mixed or alternative approach (33 percent). Interestingly, the same can be said of global multinationals operating in Africa with little difference between the differing structures that exist for these types of organisations when compared to their African-headquartered counterparts.

  1. The war for talent

With the headcount of legal departments across Africa on the rise, finding ways to provide defined career progression for high-quality lawyers is likely to become a leading challenge for general counsel. Our survey highlights just how difficult this is with only 21 percent of those surveyed saying they would be able to recruit in-house lawyers at a suitable level of experience, compared to 39 percent saying it was a challenge to recruit and retain staff at the level they would like. With over half (51 percent) of those surveyed reporting that they will look to expand their teams in the coming months, these challenges are expected to have a major impact on Africa’s in-house landscape.

  1. The use of technology

For legal tech vendors, a global pandemic forcing businesses to adapt to working remotely has created significant opportunity. While 64 percent of those surveyed said the Africa legal team was already using technology to assist with its workload, only a minority reported using legal technology such as document review software (11 percent), eSignatures (10 percent), contract lifecycle management tools (eight percent), or legal spend management and e-billing software ( five percent).

“With unprecedented shifts happening in Africa’s business environment, in-house legal teams are at the forefront of a revolution,” said Angela Mndolwa, partner in DLA Piper Africa’s Tanzania office. “We are proud to produce this first-of-its-kind report looking at the future of the African in-house legal team. Our report shines the light on the changing role of in-house legal departments working in and across the continent; the challenges of meeting new and evolving business demands and shares the tips and tricks that have allowed some of Africa’s most seasoned GCs to succeed.”

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