Career Development

What Does a General Counsel Do?

Find out what a general counsel does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a general counsel.

General counsel are the chief legal officers of many organizations. They’re responsible for overseeing all aspects of their company’s legal affairs, including advising senior management on a wide range of issues and representing the company in court or other formal proceedings.

General counsel may also be tasked with developing and implementing policies that help ensure compliance with laws and regulations. This might include creating guidelines for ethical behavior, establishing standards for hiring employees, or ensuring that products meet safety standards.

General Counsel Job Duties

General counsels have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Issuing employment termination notices to employees who are being let go from their jobs, in accordance with company policies and applicable laws
  • Overseeing the company’s compliance with federal and state labor laws including filing reports with state departments of labor or other agencies as required by law
  • Participating in negotiations with outside counsel as needed to manage litigation matters
  • Reviewing contracts to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations
  • Providing advice on ethical issues, including conflicts of interest, employee relations, and regulatory compliance
  • Drafting policies and procedures for company operations, including those related to hiring, compensation, and benefits
  • Managing legal teams who handle specific cases involving litigation or other proceedings in court
  • Overseeing corporate legal departments by establishing department policies and procedures and managing employee performance
  • Providing legal counsel regarding complex business transactions, such as mergers and acquisitions

General Counsel Salary & Outlook

General counsels’ salaries vary depending on their level of education, years of experience, and the size and industry of the company. They may also earn additional compensation in the form of bonuses and commissions.

  • Median Annual Salary: $143,000 ($68.75/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $265,000 ($127.4/hour)

The employment of general counsel is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

Demand for legal services will depend on the growth and profitability of a company. As companies expand, they will need more legal services, such as contracts and real estate transactions. However, the efficiency of new technology may allow some general counsels to oversee more functions than in the past.

General Counsel Job Requirements

A general counsel typically needs to have the following qualifications:

Education: A bachelor’s degree is often a minimum requirement to become an general counsel, but many employers prefer candidates who have a law degree. Law degrees can be obtained in a variety of disciplines, including law, business law, and taxation law.

Training & Experience: Many general counsels receive on-the-job training in their role. This training may include shadowing another member of the company’s legal team or learning the company’s policies and procedures. Some general counsels may also receive training in their role as an associate or paralegal.

Certifications & Licenses: While certifications are not usually required for candidates to be considered for a general counsel position, they can help increase a candidate’s competitiveness.

General Counsel Skills

General counsels need the following skills in order to be successful:

Communication: General counsels must be able to communicate effectively with their colleagues and clients. They often communicate with other lawyers, executives and other professionals in the company, so they need to be able to convey their ideas and information in a clear and concise manner. They also communicate with clients and other outside parties, so they need to be able to write and speak with people from different backgrounds.

Leadership: General counsels often have leadership skills that they use to guide their teams and motivate them to perform well. They may also use leadership skills to guide their company’s legal strategy and help their team understand why certain decisions are important. Leadership skills can also help general counsels to build strong relationships with their colleagues and clients.

Problem-solving: Problem-solving skills allow general counsels to identify issues, develop solutions and implement them. They use this skill to resolve disputes, craft contracts and develop legal strategies. They also use it to address employee concerns, manage legal budgets and resolve legal issues that arise during business operations.

Research: General counsels need to be able to research laws, regulations and other legal documents. They need to be able to find information about laws and regulations that affect their organizations and understand how they apply to the organization’s operations. General counsels also need to be able to research legal precedents and case law to find information about how to handle legal issues and disputes.

Negotiation: Negotiation is the ability to communicate with others to reach an agreement. General counsels use negotiation skills to help their organizations make decisions and complete transactions. They may also use negotiation skills to help their organizations resolve disputes.

General Counsel Work Environment

General counsels work in a variety of settings, including law firms, corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations. They typically work full time, and some may work more than 40 hours per week to meet deadlines or deal with emergencies. Many general counsels work in offices, but some travel frequently to attend meetings, conferences, or court hearings. The work can be stressful, and general counsels must be able to handle pressure and work well under deadlines. They must also be able to think critically and solve problems quickly.

General Counsel Trends

Here are three trends influencing how general counsels work. General counsels will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Need for More Diversity

The legal profession is still dominated by white men, which means that the general counsel position is often filled by someone who does not reflect the diversity of the company they are working for.

This is a problem because it can lead to a lack of understanding of the needs of employees from different backgrounds, which can have a negative impact on the workplace as a whole. In order to address this issue, general counsels need to be more proactive about seeking out candidates from diverse backgrounds and making sure that they are represented in the office.

A Greater Focus on Cybersecurity

As businesses become increasingly reliant on technology, the need for cybersecurity professionals has grown. This is because cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect, which makes it essential for companies to have experts on staff who can protect them from potential threats.

General counsels are in a unique position to take advantage of this trend, as they are responsible for overseeing all legal matters within their company. By developing expertise in cybersecurity law, they can help ensure that their company is protected against potential attacks.

More Collaboration Between Legal and Business Teams

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend towards collaboration between legal and business teams. This is due to the fact that both sides now understand that they need each other in order to be successful.

General counsels are in a unique position to capitalize on this trend, as they are often in charge of managing these teams and ensuring that they work together effectively. By doing so, they can help their company to achieve its goals while also protecting its interests.

How to Become a General Counsel

General counsel is a career path that offers many opportunities for growth and specialization. As you progress in your career, you may want to specialize in a particular area of law or work with a specific type of company or organization. You may also want to move into management or become a chief legal officer.

No matter what stage you’re at in your general counsel career, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest legal developments and trends. Read industry journals and attend conferences and workshops to learn about new technologies and best practices. Network with other professionals in your field to exchange ideas and find out about new opportunities.

Related: How to Write a General Counsel Resume

Advancement Prospects

Most lawyers advance in their careers by taking on more responsibility and complex cases. As they gain experience, they may be promoted to positions with more responsibility, such as senior associate, managing associate, or partner. Partners in a law firm typically have the most responsibility and are the most experienced lawyers in the firm. They also tend to be the highest-paid lawyers in the firm.

Some lawyers may choose to move into other legal positions, such as judges, law professors, or government lawyers. Others may move into business or become consultants.

Similar Jobs


What Does a Toxicologist Do?

Back to Career Development

What Does a Major Gifts Officer Do?