As European in-house legal budgets rise across the board, a divide is opening up between departments that have sufficient resources to provide legal advice coverage, and those that do not.

That is the conclusion of benchmarking research by Consero Group carried out among members of its European General Counsel Forum.

The research found that 50% of all legal department budgets had grown in the past year – 12% of them by between 21% and 50%. Some 26% saw no change, while 24% of budgets decreased. That division was broadly reflected in headcount, with 45% reporting either no change or a decrease.

Such figures matter, the study says, because 29% of general counsel reported that they have insufficient resources to manage their department effectively.

The report adds that ‘in an era of rapidly emerging and developing markets’, it is worrying that a quarter of general counsel ‘felt their staff lacked the requisite knowledge for handling international subject matter’.

General counsel painted a mixed picture on access to the chief executive and the board of directors. Nearly a quarter of respondents, 24%, said they did not have ‘sufficient access’ to the CEO. For access to the board of directors the figure was 33%.

‘As the occasional front-page story reminds us, inadequate chief legal officer interaction with top leadership can literally bring down a business,’ the report notes.

Cyber-security is an area of concern for general counsel, with 31% of respondents saying their company had experienced a cyber-security ‘breach’ in the past 12 months. More than half the respondents, 52%, believed their company was not prepared for cyber-security threats.

Paul Mandell, Consero’s CEO, said that, ‘with international hacking on the rise, defences against corporate espionage and technical sabotage have become ubiquitous concerns for large businesses’.

Confidence in information security was, he believed, ‘likely to continue to decline before it gets better’.