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

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

Senior counsel and general counsel are both legal positions that require a high level of education and experience. If you’re interested in working in law, understanding the similarities and differences between these two positions can help you decide which is right for you. In this article, we discuss the duties of senior counsel and general counsel, compare and contrast the two positions and offer tips for choosing the right career path.

What is a Senior Counsel?

Senior Counsel provides legal advice to clients within a company or organization. They may represent the company in court, provide advice on compliance with the law, draft and review contracts, or provide advice on mergers and acquisitions. Senior Counsel may specialize in a particular area of law, such as employment law or intellectual property law. In larger companies, there may be multiple Senior Counsel positions, each with a different focus. Senior Counsel report to the General Counsel, who is the head of the legal department.

What is a General Counsel?

A General Counsel is a corporate lawyer who provides legal advice to a company on a variety of issues, including contracts, compliance, regulatory matters, mergers and acquisitions, and labor and employment law. The General Counsel is responsible for ensuring that the company complies with all applicable laws and regulations. They also provide advice on risk management and legal strategies. General Counsels typically report to the CEO or President of the company. In larger companies, there may be multiple General Counsels with different areas of focus.

Senior Counsel vs. General Counsel

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

Job Duties

General counsels focus on companywide policies and procedures, while senior counsels handle more specific issues within their departments or business units. For example, a general counsel might create guidelines for all employees to follow when conducting business with external parties. Senior counsels might investigate specific incidents that break those rules, like falsified documents or employee theft.

Another key difference is that senior counsels usually work on cases involving litigation, either defending the company if it’s sued or investigating potential lawsuits before they happen. General counsels rarely work on actual court cases. Instead, they advise executives about legal matters in the company and help make decisions about how to handle certain situations.

Job Requirements

Senior counsel and general counsel positions are both high-level legal jobs that require a Juris Doctor degree from an accredited law school. After completing their undergraduate studies, aspiring lawyers must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) before they can apply to law school. Once in law school, students take classes on topics like constitutional law, contracts and property law. Many law schools also offer clinics where students can get real-world experience working on cases.

After graduating from law school, senior counsel and general counsel must pass their state’s bar exam before they can start practicing law. Some states have additional requirements, such as taking an ethics exam. Senior counsel and general counsel typically need to have several years of experience working as a lawyer before they can be considered for these high-level positions.

Work Environment

General counsels usually work in an office setting, but they may travel to meet with clients or attend conferences. They also spend a lot of time on the phone and emailing clients and colleagues about legal matters. Senior counsels often have more responsibilities than general counsels because they oversee multiple departments within their company. They may travel for business purposes, such as attending meetings with other companies or meeting with investors.


The main difference between a senior counsel and general counsel is that a senior counsel typically has more experience than a general counsel. A senior counsel may have worked as a general counsel for several years or may have held other positions in a company before becoming a senior counsel. As a result, a senior counsel often has more knowledge about the law and how it applies to a company’s specific situation.

Both senior counsels and general counsels use analytical and research skills when they are reviewing documents, researching case law and preparing legal arguments. They also need to be able to communicate effectively, whether they are writing memos or briefs or arguing cases in court. negotiation skills can be helpful in settlement discussions and contract negotiations. Senior counsels and general counsels also need to be able to work well under pressure and meet deadlines.


The average salary for a senior counsel is $165,502 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 counsel has.


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