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Corporate Counsel vs. General Counsel: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

The legal industry offers many opportunities for those with a passion for justice and a desire to help others. Two common positions in this field are corporate counsel and general counsel. Though both lawyers provide legal advice to their clients, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between corporate counsel and general counsel, and we provide an overview of the duties and responsibilities of each position.

What is a Corporate Counsel?

Corporate Counsel are lawyers who work within a company to provide legal advice and guidance on a variety of issues, including compliance with laws and regulations, business transactions, employment law, intellectual property and risk management. Corporate Counsel also draft and review legal documents, such as contracts, and represent the company in legal proceedings. They work closely with other members of the company’s management team to ensure that the company’s actions are in line with its legal obligations. Corporate Counsel typically have a law degree and are licensed to practice law in their jurisdiction.

What is a General Counsel?

A General Counsel is a lawyer who provides legal advice to an organization or individual. They may work in-house for a company, meaning they are employed by the company they provide legal services for, or they may work at a law firm where they provide legal services to multiple clients. General Counsels typically have a broad understanding of the law and are able to provide advice on a variety of legal matters. They may draft and review contracts, advise on compliance issues, handle litigation matters, negotiate settlements and provide advice on a variety of other legal issues.

Corporate Counsel vs. General Counsel

Here are the main differences between a corporate counsel and a general counsel.

Job Duties

Corporate counsels focus on the legal aspects of running a business, such as creating and revising company policies. They also help executives make decisions about mergers and acquisitions, real estate transactions and other large-scale business moves. General counsels oversee all legal matters for a company, including litigation, criminal investigations and employee complaints. In smaller companies, they may perform corporate counsel duties, too.

Job Requirements

Corporate counsel typically need a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school and must pass their state’s bar exam to become licensed attorneys. Some employers prefer candidates who have experience working in the legal field, but it is not always required. Corporate counsel may also pursue certifications through professional organizations like the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA) or the American Bar Association (ABA).

General counsel must also obtain a Juris Doctor degree and pass their state’s bar exam to become licensed attorneys. However, general counsel often have more experience than corporate counsel. Many general counsel start their careers as corporate counsel before being promoted to general counsel positions. General counsel may also pursue certifications through professional organizations like the NALA or the ABA.

Work Environment

General counsels work in a variety of environments, depending on the company they’re working for. They may work in an office setting or travel to different locations to meet with clients and employees. Corporate counsels typically work in an office environment where they can focus on their daily tasks without distraction.

General counsels often work long hours, especially if they’re representing a large company that has many legal issues. Corporate counsels usually have more regular schedules because they don’t need to be available 24 hours a day.


The main difference between corporate counsel and general counsel is that corporate counsel focuses on providing legal advice to a specific company, while general counsel provides legal advice to multiple companies. Because of this, corporate counsel needs to have in-depth knowledge about their company’s business, products and services. They also need to be familiar with the laws and regulations that apply to their company’s industry. General counsel, on the other hand, needs to have a broad understanding of the law and be able to provide legal advice on a variety of topics.

Both corporate counsel and general counsel need to have excellent research and writing skills. They also need to be able to think critically and solve problems. In addition, both positions require strong communication skills, as they will be communicating with clients, colleagues and others on a regular basis.


The average salary for a corporate counsel is $137,975 per year, while the average salary for a general counsel is $194,967 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the size of the company, the industry in which the company operates and the level of experience the attorney has.


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