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Gartner Says Overcautious Counsel Cost Organizations More Than $17 Million Annually

General Counsel Should Proactively Teach Smart Risk-Taking Behaviors


The average organization is losing more than $17 million per year because in-house counsel are giving legal advice that is too conservative, according to Gartner, Inc.

“When legal advice is too conservative it costs the organization broadly and the legal team specifically,” said Stephanie Quaranta, distinguished research vice president for Gartner’s Legal practice. “Legal advice that is misaligned with an organization’s risk tolerance causes organizations to miss or downsize potential opportunities amounting to a value of $672,000 per lawyer at a median legal department we studied.”

The Costs of Overly Conservative Legal Advice

Gartner surveyed more than 200 in-house counsel and interviewed or received survey input from more than 100 General Counsel in studying the ramifications of legal advice that is misaligned with organizational risk tolerance. The research identified a series of adverse business and legal impacts when legal guidance is too conservative.

On average, in-house lawyers reported the costs of overcautious counsel were steep. In Gartner’s survey they said that when legal guidance is too conservative, the organization was:

  • 2.5x more likely to miss a business opportunity.
  • 4.25x more likely to reduce the benefits of a business opportunity.
  • 2.5x more likely to delay exploitation of a business opportunity.

In-house lawyers noted that when guidance is too conservative, the department sees a 4.5x higher rate of “internal forum shopping,” where business partners seek different opinions from multiple lawyers, while “escalation” to more senior lawyers occurred at 4x higher rate.

“The costs of continuous escalation are high,” said Ms. Quaranta. “Our research shows that General Counsel lose one full day per week to escalation requests, creating considerable delays for both legal teams and their broader organizations.”

Smart Risk Taking Can Be Learned

To determine the best strategies for combating undue risk-aversion, Gartner measured the impact of a variety of different approaches and their contributions to risk alignment. The Gartner experts identified three key areas that had the most impact on improving risk alignment among in-house counsel. All three actions require proactive guidance from General Counsel that go beyond messaging and into the management of implementation.

  • Facilitate Regular Conversations on the Right Risk Posture – Gartner’s survey of in-house counsel revealed the majority of respondents (57%) didn’t fully understand their organization’s risk posture as established by their General Counsel and company’s strategic direction. This represents an opportunity for General Counsel to regularly engage their in-house counsel on the organization’s risk tolerance.

  • Embed Structure in Lawyers’ Analysis to Limit Biases  Today’s uncertain and rapidly-shifting environment means that relying on past experience of familiar terrains to guide new risk decisions may lead to undue caution. General Counsel must support in-house counsel with updated legal risk models that consider new legal analysis. Gartner found that analysis discipline was the largest contributor to improving risk alignment within legal departments, but only 25% of in-house counsel reported their departments as effective in this area.

  • Remove Conflicting Signals from Real-Life Examples – Lawyers are frequently confused about which behaviors to prioritize. Signals that support appropriate risk taking must go beyond messaging and link to goals established in performance reviews, to successful examples from peers and legal leadership, and to the tools and templates lawyers use to provide legal advice.

Gartner for Legal & Compliance Leaders clients can access the full results of the survey in Taking the Right Risks to Grow: Key Findings From Gartner’s Risk Aligned Legal Guidance Model.

Non-clients can learn more in Taking the Right Risks to Grow

About the Gartner Legal & Compliance Practice

The Gartner Legal & Compliance practice supports senior legal and compliance executives with their most critical priorities. Gartner offers a unique breadth and depth of content to support clients’ individual success and deliver on key initiatives that cut across finance functions to drive business impact. Learn more at 

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world’s leading research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500. We equip business leaders with indispensable insights, advice and tools to achieve their mission-critical priorities today and build the successful organizations of tomorrow.

Our unmatched combination of expert-led, practitioner-sourced and data-driven research steers clients toward the right decisions on the issues that matter most. We are a trusted advisor and an objective resource for more than 15,000 enterprises in more than 100 countries — across all major functions, in every industry and enterprise size.

To learn more about how we help decision makers fuel the future of business, visit

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