DLA Piper and The Legal 500 Launch Inaugural Survey of Africa’s In-House Lawyers

Changing nature of the In-House role – 57% state that the most senior lawyer within their organization now had a direct input to business strategy; The war for talent – only 21% felt that they would be able to find and recruit in-house lawyers at a suitable level of experience; Limited use of key technology tools – document review software (11%), eSignatures (10%), contract lifecycle management tools (8%), or legal spend management and e-billing software (5%).

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 (GC) in addition to a survey of over 300 in-house lawyers across Africa. Both reports explore the changing role of GC’s in Africa, team structures, the war for talent and the use of technology.

Over the past ten years, general counsel across the world’s financial centers 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 organizations on a range of business-critical issues.

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

To meet the evolving needs of business, Africa’s general counsel must not only develop a voice and adapt to new and ever-changing areas of practice; they must also find ways for the legal team to cover operations across a vast, and often growing, geographical area.

The survey shows that Africa’s legal teams are divided fairly evenly between those operating from a central team with responsibility for all matters across Africa (37%), those preferring a decentralized model with lawyers embedded on the ground (30%) and those that take either a mixed or alternative approach (33%). 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 organizations when compared to their African-headquartered counterparts. For global multinationals, when it comes to the optimal way to organize legal responsibility for Africa they are just as divided, with 30% taking a centralized approach, 21% preferring a decentralized approach, and 40% adopting a mixed structure.

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% of those surveyed saying they would be able to recruit in-house lawyers at a suitable level of experience, compared to 39% saying it was a challenge to recruit and retain staff at the level they would like. With over half (51%) 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. In terms of the type of skills being sought, our panel of GCs agreed that finding lawyers who are prepared to embrace the changing nature of the in-house role is just as important as recruiting for specific legal skills.

For legal tech vendors, a global pandemic forcing businesses to adapt to working remotely has created significant opportunity. For many of Africa’s GCs, the shock therapy also proved to be a blessing in disguise. For almost all teams it was a moment to reflect on whether longstanding best practice really was best practice.  While 64% 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%), eSignatures (10%), contract lifecycle management tools (8%), or legal spend management and e-billing software (5%). With global spending on legal tech predicted to increase threefold by 2025, vendors are starting to push heavily at the African market. At the same time, the younger generation of lawyers across the continent are starting to see familiarity with legal tech as a prerequisite for any future career in law.

Those who are willing to embrace new ways of working will also often run into the perennial problem of budgetary constraints. Nearly half of those polled (41%) said they would struggle to secure budget for new technology, while even those who were confident of receiving backing felt implementation would be a challenge.

Angela Mndolwa, moderator at our report launch event and partner in DLA Piper Africa’s Tanzania office commented: “With unprecedented shifts happening in Africa’s business environment, in-house legal teams are at the forefront of a revolution. 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.  We would like to sincerely thank all of the Africa-based and Africa-focused general counsel who gave their time to contribute”.

Allan Cohen, Research Editor, The Legal 500 said: “We were delighted when DLA Piper Africa approached us to partner with them on this exciting project. As two organizations committed to development of legal talent, we saw a gap in the market with Africa significantly under-represented in global programs and a lack of content developed exclusively with the African in-house lawyer in mind.  These reports are a step in the right direction to changing this, providing useful benchmarking data for organizations with operations in Africa on the size, structure and shape of legal teams.”

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Written by Mercy ANURIKA

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