General Counsel Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

A General Counsel, or Corporate Counsel, provides legal advice and strategies to an organization’s executive team. Their main duties include reviewing and writing various internal legal contracts, negotiating and managing client and vendor contracts and ensuring legal compliance regarding employee safety and mergers and acquisitions.

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General Counsel duties and responsibilities

In order to effectively maintain the company’s legal standing, a General Counsel has to fulfill a wide variety of duties and responsibilities that touch every department. The primary duty is to maintain legal compliance, but that involves many things. The major duties and responsibilities of a General Counsel include:

  • Advising executive members on new laws, existing laws and legal rights that would impact functionality of the business
  • Overseeing the legal matters of the business as a whole, including acting as the business’ legal representative
  • Maintaining knowledge of the company’s legal documents and operations
  • Crafting and reviewing legal strategy in response to any litigation
  • Keeping a record of all legal documents and proceedings for the company
  • Facilitating filings of licensing forms and other statutory requirements
  • Communicating with outside counsel
  • Legally filing for copyright of intellectual property
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What does a General Counsel do?

A General Counsel acts as the chief Lawyer of a company and serves on the executive team as the organization’s legal representative. They provide educated legal advice to senior management, board members and other executives on various legal matters and instruct them on how to remain compliant with current corporate laws. They’re trusted with certain legal documents and private company information and must safely store and apply this information to help them make wise legal decisions for the company. 

They’ll also handle certain statutory filings, like licensing forms, and must use their advanced knowledge and skill set to advise executives on how to handle these legal issues. General Counsels may also create new entities and are in charge of properly managing the company’s intellectual properties.

General Counsel skills and qualifications

Considering the level of responsibility that General Counsels have, extensive skills and qualifications are required. Here are the most important skills and qualifications you need to list in your job description to attract applicants who can handle that kind of responsibility:

  • A General Counsel needs leadership to manage several legal experts and to direct them and executives at the company to achieve the best legal outcomes.
  •  Laws are constantly changing, and a General Counsel needs to remain informed of all the latest changes on the federal, state, city and county measures that could impact the operation of the business.
  • When an entity files litigation against the business, the General Counsel needs negotiation skills to charge of the response, from formulating a strategy to going to the courthouse to argue a case.
  • A General Counsel needs expert communication skills to ensure all litigation information and instruction to staff are clear and effectively ensure the desired outcome.

General Counsel salary expectations

A General Counsel makes an average of $132,593 per year. Salary may depend on level of experience, education and the geographical location. 

General Counsel education and training requirements

Since a General Counsel is a legal representative, there are extensive education and training requirements. A General Counsel must legally be able to practice law, so they’ll need a license from the state you’re looking to hire in. Education requirements typically involve obtaining a Master of Law degree, though some positions may call for a more advanced degree.

General Counsel experience requirements

Extensive experience is also required of a General Counsel. While some positions for small companies could be fulfilled by someone with just a few years of experience, typically, the General Counsel position requires someone who has been working with relevant legal matters for at least a decade. It’s important to note that someone who worked as a government General Counsel can excel in private industry roles.

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Frequently asked questions about General Counsels

 

Do General Counsels have different responsibilities in different industries?

General Counsels usually hold similar responsibilities of handling an organization’s legal documents, though the industries they work in often vary. Some of them work for larger corporations, advising both the executive team and stakeholders on ways to remain compliant with corporate laws and reviewing any important company documents before they’re signed. 

They may also work for government entities, providing advice to government officials regarding local, state and federal laws. General Counsels make sure government offices are legally completing certain projects to help them avoid receiving any legal repercussions or upsetting the community.

 

Who reports to a General Counsel?

Many people within a company report to the General Counsel. Any senior management team member who is dealing with a contract or any other legal matter will report to the General Counsel for guidance and input. The General Counsel also reviews their contract and provides suggestions for ways to make the contract more compliant and follow certain regulations. 

Executive team members and sometime board members also report to the General Counsel for legal advice when making big-picture decisions that could legally impact the company. Any Lawyers or other legal employees at the company will report directly to the General Counsel, who gives them certain legal tasks to complete for the company. The General Counsel often acts as a mentor for this employee and teaches them proper methods to follow to successfully perform in the role. 

 

What makes a good General Counsel?

A great General Counsel must have a strong knowledge and experience in how the business environment works to effectively advise executives on which contracts will positively affect the company. They should also have a broad knowledge of all aspects of the legal field, including litigations, corporate law and labor law, to advise employees on a variety of subjects. 

Strong General Counsel candidates should also be regularly updated on current laws to ensure they’re compliant at all times. They should also have impressive negotiation skills to ensure their company receives the best contract terms. 

 

What's the difference between a General Counsel and a Chief Legal Officer?

Both of these roles work on a company’s executive team, providing legal advice and guidance to employees. A Chief Legal Officer, however, focuses more on how certain legal decisions affect a company’s structure and operations. They usually manage a company’s legal costs and implement technologies to properly handle and manage a company’s cybersecurity and legal work. 

General Counsels oversee the company’s legal compliance and mainly work to ensure the company is fulfilling its legal obligations. In larger companies, the Chief Legal Officer usually handles bigger legal and company structure tasks and the General Counsel works on daily company legal matters. 

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