What Does Legal Counsel Do? (And How To Pursue This Role in 6 Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Legal counsel plays a vital role in assisting those who want advice on legal issues, especially matters that involve negotiation. These professionals use their extensive knowledge of the law to help clients, in and out of court. If you're interested in the law, you may consider learning more about legal counsel duties. In this article, we describe what these professionals do, reasons to become a counselor, qualifications, how to become one and tips.

What is legal counsel?

Legal counsel is a professional or an organization that provides guidance on legal issues. These professionals are also called counselors or lawyers. Legal counsel refers to law practitioners who can practice in courts of law in states where they've passed a bar exam. Corporations often hire legal counsel to help manage any legal disputes or other matters they face. They're salaried employees who typically earn extra bonuses or incentives if they win legal disputes or negotiate successfully.

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What does legal counsel do?

These legal experts have a range of duties, including offering legal support and guidance. They also ensure clients comply with laws and create a range of documents, including contracts and agreements. Counselors may determine risks in business processes and assist with business decision-making. Other duties of counsel may include handling litigation and assisting with procedures for protecting trademarks, patents and industrial designs. Counselors continue to develop their legal knowledge by learning about changes to relevant law areas. They may also contribute to knowledge bases, such as companies' legal departments.

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Why become a legal counselor?

If you enjoy helping others, can learn a lot of details and retain your knowledge, and enjoy legal matters, you may want to become a lawyer. This profession can offer exciting opportunities and be extremely fulfilling. There are a lot of areas of law, so it is possible to specialize. Here are some reasons to become a legal counselor:

Good earning potential

Counselors study for years so they can earn their qualifications, and their high skill levels can help them earn high salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly wage for a lawyer is $126,930 per year, which is much higher than the median of all occupations. The earning potential may be higher in certain specialties, such as patent law and corporate law. While salaries vary widely, a lawyer can change jobs to attain a higher salary. A counselor may also get a promotion. For example, a lawyer may become a partner for their firm, which can be lucrative.

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The chance to help others

These legal professionals can help other people. For example, a lawyer might represent a person with a low level of income for free, or pro bono. Another scenario is that a lawyer might help an innocent client who a judge ruled to be guilty by getting their conviction overturned. Counselors can contribute to the betterment of society with their efforts, whether by helping people seek justice or working as an advocate to advance a cause.

Pleasant work environments and perks

Some law firms are elegant and pleasant environments, with nice offices, well-appointed conference rooms and other appealing features. While every lawyer doesn't enjoy that kind of employment environment, many do. Some counselors may be government employees who access the perks of a civil servant, such as pensions.

Diverse areas of specialization

Counsel may choose areas of legal specialization that suit their interests and talents. For example, one lawyer might pursue criminal law, while another pursues family law. With a range of specialization options, counselors have choices that give them a lot of opportunities to find fulfilling niches.

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Intellectual opportunities

Excelling in the legal field may require a lot of skill and savvy, and some counselors thrive on the intellectual challenges. Whether they are arguing a point in court, arranging an out-of-court settlement, or performing other duties, they are using their intelligence. The job often includes a lot of problem-solving and requires legal counsel to be able to think quickly and find specific details to help their cause. For people who love to challenge their minds at work, this career could provide an exciting opportunity.

Legal counsel qualifications

To qualify for this role, lawyers earn law degrees and then pass their state's written bar examinations. After high school, aspiring law students study for about seven years. Then, they try to get licenses to practice law, which includes the bar exam, character and fitness reviews, taking an oath and pursuing any licenses to help them practice in their state. Aspiring lawyers can benefit from having good time management, organizational and interpersonal skills. They may also gain advantages from knowing administrative procedures and laws. Mediation skills and arbitration ability may also be helpful.

How to become a legal counselor

To become a legal counselor, you can follow these main steps:

1. Earn an undergraduate degree

Aspiring legal counsel professionals often have undergraduate degrees before applying to law school. It may be wise to choose an undergraduate major that aligns with your interests and goals, and it usually takes four years to complete an undergraduate degree.

There are some majors a lot of law school students choose, including political science, criminal justice and psychology. Political science is popular as many aspects of that major involve policies that are a part of the law. Criminal justice is popular for the same reason. Students often choose psychology because lawyers interact with many people and benefit from understanding human nature.

2. Obtain an advanced degree in law or a similar field

In most states, aspiring lawyers can complete master's degrees called Juris Doctor (JD) degrees in three years. You may earn these degrees from educational facilities that have American Bar Association accreditation. Examples of courses offered include contract law, torts, and civil procedures. Students earning these degrees also may learn about criminal law and constitutional law. Education about courtroom procedures is common, too.

3. Pass bar exams

The next step is taking licensing examinations called bar exams, and the rules for these often vary by state. Many schools provide review courses to help students study for this exam, which includes topics like civil procedure, torts, criminal law, evidence, legal analysis, written communication and more. Most employers often require you to pass an exam only in the state you plan to work in, but some states allow you to transfer your score on the exam to one another, which can help qualify you to practice in several states.

4. Develop skills

Students can augment their education by learning about other skills that help lawyers to excel, including organization and mediation. Arbitration skills, which help you make a decision in a dispute by the agreement of involved parties, also are common for legal counsel. Oral and written communication, time management and research skills also can be vital for you to succeed in this role. You can consider trying to develop these skills independently, or you can use your work to focus on improving these traits.

5. Earn experience

To help them qualify as a legal counselor, aspiring lawyers may want to earn related work experience. Examples of jobs that may help students to gather relevant experience include courtroom runner, law clerk and legal receptionist. Jobs like these can help law students to create impressive resumes, which can help earn them more job opportunities and potentially higher pay.

6. Network

Networking may also help aspiring legal counselors succeed by allowing them to make connections with established professionals in the industry. Consider trying to form a positive relationship with the faculty at the university you attended, or you can attend alumni events to help meet other people in the field. Local groups or organizations also may host networking events and mixers, which give you a chance to make valuable industry connections.

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