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

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

General counsel and legal counsel are both important positions within the legal industry. Though they share some similarities, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between general counsel and legal counsel, and we provide additional legal professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a General Counsel?

A General Counsel is the top lawyer at a company who provides legal advice and guidance to the company’s executives, Board of Directors and employees. The General Counsel is responsible for managing the company’s legal risks and ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. The General Counsel also represents the company in legal proceedings, negotiates contracts on behalf of the company and provides legal advice on a variety of business matters.

What is a Legal Counsel?

Legal Counsel are lawyers who provide advice and guidance to their clients on legal matters. They may represent their clients in court, but they also handle other tasks such as drafting legal documents, researching legal issues and negotiating settlements. Legal Counsel work in a variety of settings, including law firms, government agencies and corporations. They typically specialize in a particular area of law, such as criminal law, family law or business law. Legal Counsel must be able to clearly communicate their client’s legal options and help them make informed decisions.

General Counsel vs. Legal Counsel

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

Job Duties

General counsels and legal counsels share some of the same job duties, like researching and advising their companies on various issues. However, legal counsels usually focus more on providing advice about specific legal matters, while general counsels tend to oversee a company’s overall legal strategy. This means that legal counsels often handle particular cases or situations, while general counsels evaluate the effectiveness of their companies’ policies and procedures.

Another key difference between these two roles is that legal counsels typically work within the courtroom more frequently than general counsels. While general counsels may attend occasional court dates with their teams, legal counsels are responsible for presenting their cases in front of judges and juries.

Job Requirements

To become a general counsel or legal counsel, you need to earn a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school and pass your state’s bar exam. Some employers may prefer candidates who have a master’s degree in business administration or another relevant field, but it is not always required. After passing the bar exam, lawyers must complete continuing education credits every year to maintain their license.

Work Environment

Legal counsels work in a variety of environments, depending on the company they work for. They may spend most of their time in an office setting or travel to different locations to meet with clients and employees. General counsels typically work in an office environment, but they also have opportunities to travel as part of their job responsibilities.

Legal counsels often work long hours, especially when preparing for trials or other legal proceedings. General counsels usually work regular business hours, although some companies require them to be available 24 hours a day.


The main difference between a general counsel and legal counsel is that a general counsel provides advice on a broad range of legal topics, while a legal counsel focuses on a specific area of law. Both types of lawyers need excellent research and writing skills to be successful in their roles. They also both need to be able to think critically and analytically to identify legal issues and develop solutions.

General counsels typically have a strong understanding of business principles, as they need to be able to provide advice on contracts, mergers and acquisitions, and other business transactions. They also need to be able to effectively communicate with non-lawyers, as they may be called upon to provide legal advice to company executives who are not familiar with the law. Legal counsels, on the other hand, need to have a deep understanding of their area of specialty, whether it is intellectual property law, tax law, or another area. They also need to be able to keep up with changes in the law and developments in their field.


The average salary for a general counsel is $194,967 per year, while the average salary for a legal counsel is $117,888 per year. The 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 individual has.


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