General Counsel Job Description
A general counsel serves as an in-house legal guide, providing assistance and advice on all matters of law. Businesses in all industries hire lawyers to serve as general counsel to work full-time daytime business hours. General counsel primarily work in office environments, but also travel to courthouses to file documents and try cases before judges. General counsel work independently and have no direct supervisor or manager, but may supervise and direct legal assistants and other staff members to manage their workload.
General Counsel Duties and Responsibilities
Daily job tasks for general counsel fluctuate depending on the legal issues and contracts currently before the company. However, these core duties are the same in all businesses:
Provide Legal Advice and Guidance
General counsel give legal advice to company executives on contracts, legal risks, and business terms. They also provide continuing legal guidance on all matters before the company, such as providing legal advice regarding risk management and responding to legal questions from the HR department.
Stay Up to Date
General counsel stay up to date on current federal, state, city, and county laws and regulations that may affect the company’s business interests.
Manage Litigation Actions
General counsel manage any litigation actions involving the company, from going to the courthouse to litigate cases to negotiating settlement agreements to avoid litigation when possible.
General counsel manage and direct legal aids, paralegals, legal assistants, and other staff members.
Write Legal Documents
General counsel write legal briefs, in-house memos, and other legal paperwork.
General Counsel Skills and Qualifications
General counsel are lawyers who are trained in matters of corporate and business law and use their knowledge to prevent legal risks and maintain their company’s business interests. Companies hire candidates who have the following skills:
- Legal knowledge – general counsel need extensive legal knowledge to ensure the company stays compliant with all federal, state, city, and county laws and regulations; to provide advice on contractual language; and to manage all legal actions currently before the company
- Public speaking – general counsel use public speaking abilities when arguing cases before judges and juries
- Leadership skills – because general counsel may direct and manage legal aides and assistants, leadership abilities are an essential component of this career
- Negotiation– general counsel negotiate business contracts, settlement agreements, and other legal matters
- Critical thinking – general counsel use critical thinking skills to examine contractual language and provide risk management advice
- Communication skills – general counsel need excellent written and verbal communication skills to create reports and provide legal advice in language that’s easy for non-lawyers to understand
General Counsel Education and Training
General counsel must have a law degree from an accredited law school in order to pursue this job. To legally practice law, general counsel must also maintain a license to practice law in their state of employment as well as a valid driver’s license. Additionally, many hiring companies require general counsel to have previous work experience practicing law. However, a master of law degree can suffice for actual work experience.
Because of the extensive amount of education required for this job, no training is provided to general counsel. Many companies do give new employers a brief orientation period to help them become familiar with the company’s inner workings, major clients, and permanent staff members. This orientation is brief, typically lasting just one week.
General Counsel Salary and Outlook
Employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that lawyers earn $119,250 in annual median pay. Data projections show that these jobs will increase 8 percent through 2026, a rate that is as fast as the national average.
Companies provide general counsel with full medical benefits that include dental and vision coverage. A majority of employers also provide retirement benefits and life insurance. After a specified period of continued employment, paid vacation and sick days are included in standard benefits packages. Many businesses provide additional jobs perks, such as profit-sharing bonuses, free parking, and wellness program enrollment.
Find legal resources, job opportunities, career strategies, and information about corporate law in these books and websites:
Association of Corporate Counsel - the ACC website is designed for all lawyers working in corporate environments to provide job opportunities, education resources, articles, and membership benefits
Legal Risk Management for In-House Counsel and Managers: A Manager’s Guide to Legal and Corporate Risk Management - this book was written by the former general counsel of Samsung Electronics America to provide real-world tips and strategies for all general counsel in corporate and business environments
National Lawyers Association - use the NLA website to find research and resource tools, explore the career center, and access a national network of general counsel and other lawyers across the U.S.
General Counsel in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities - this guidebook is full of tips and information for legal experts and covers a range of topics for general counsel
Corporate Counsel Associations - this website contains legal resources of all kinds, including upcoming event dates, legal associations, articles, and law information for general counsel and other corporate lawyers
Of Counsel: A Guide for Law Firms and Practitioners - learn the language general counsel need to know to work in a business environment in this practical, comprehensive guidebook, which contains information about recent case law
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