What Is A General Counsel? (With Job Duties And Skills)

Updated 21 August 2023

A general counsel acts as a business legal advisor and helps an organisation's leadership navigate judicial or regulatory issues. These professionals are integral to many industries and act as in-house company lawyers. If you wish to pursue a law-related career, learning about the role of a corporate counsel can be helpful. In this article, we define the role of a general counsel, explain their responsibilities, list their skills and discuss the job requirements for this position.

Related: How Much Does A Corporate Lawyer Make? (With Required Skills)

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What Is A General Counsel?

A general counsel is an internal corporate lawyer who acts as a company's representative and offers guidance on legal matters. Depending on the business size and industry, this role has different titles, such as corporate counsel, legal advisor, corporate lawyer or chief legal officer. These professionals help the management make prudent legal decisions, ensure corporate governance and resolve lawsuits on behalf of the business.

Related: What Does A Lawyer Do? (With Salary And Essential Skills)

Duties Of A General And Corporate Counsel

While the exact duties of a general and corporate counsel vary according to the organisation or industry, here are some tasks they typically perform in this role:

Providing legal guidance

General and corporate counsel advise a company's senior management on legal matters. They typically discuss the rights, obligations and challenges related to existing laws to prevent legal issues. In addition, their strategic legal advice on liability, taxation, transactions or policies helps the organisation's leadership and business practices operate within the law. They also safeguard the organisation against unlawful conduct.

Related: How To Become A Corporate Lawyer: A Complete Guide

Ensuring regulatory compliance

Depending on the unique laws of the industry where they work, these professionals ensure all business functions comply with national and local laws. In addition, they view the legal aspect of individual processes and the corporate entity as a whole to suggest business-compliant practices. In some organisations, these professionals also work with external counsel to conduct compliance or legal audits to identify shortcomings and implement changes.

Related: What Is A Compliance Audit? (With Definition And Benefits)

Representing a company in judicial proceedings

A corporate counsel represents a company in litigations. Individuals or organisations can file these against the business, or the company can file them on issues such as intellectual property rights or agreement violations. They also track judicial proceedings, oversee progress and file the required paperwork before a court hearing. When supervising attorneys and paralegals, they guide the team on how to manage sensitive issues.

Related: Paralegal Vs Lawyer: What Are The Key Differences?

Maintaining paperwork and records

Preserving all business records and documents is vital to safeguarding a company's interests for future litigation. Storing, organising and maintaining a database of all legal documents is the responsibility of the legal counsel. This task includes keeping a record of all contracts, business transactions, agreements, licences, returns, reports, communication or internal documents for the required time, as stipulated by the law.

Drafting and reviewing business contracts

Drafting, reviewing, updating and managing business contracts, leases or agreements is the responsibility of a company's legal counsel. They review these documents to suggest timely and necessary revisions in accordance with the latest regulations and bylaws. These include employment agreements with full-time employees, client contracts and agreements with contractors, vendors, suppliers and other types of organisations.

Related: Types Of Lawyer Careers: Descriptions, Skills And Salaries

Helping human resources (HR) define governance policies

To ensure an organisation has a labour policy compliant with the law, the legal counsel usually collaborates with its HR team to design employee policies. These include setting up processes in areas such as payroll, performance management, safety, workplace environment, benefits and query resolution. In addition, these professionals help set internal governance policies to manage company employees based on industry regulations.

Managing filings, licences and other legal business processes

An organisation requires certain permits and rights to perform specific business tasks. The corporate counsel maintains all filings related to intellectual property rights, trademarks, licences or other statutory filings. They also secure the paperwork, apply for renewals and liaise with the accounting or HR team to ensure lawful business practices.

Conducting research

A legal counsel spends a significant amount of time conducting research and studying documents. They review, analyse, interpret and apply the legal opinions of past cases and new laws. This is particularly useful when the government introduces new laws or regulations for a specific industry.

Related: Essential Research Skills (With Benefits And How To Improve)

Anticipating potential legal challenges

Legal counsel teams anticipate judicial risks, issues and challenges to eliminate or mitigate them. They identify legal issues proactively and counsel relevant employees to implement remedial legal strategies. This responsibility is crucial as the regulatory framework keeps evolving, which can result in new business challenges.

Related: What Is Risk Management? (Crucial Steps And Strategies)

Mitigating crises

During times of crisis, such as product recall, financial irregularity or poor press reports, general and corporate counsel teams work with other departments to minimise the damage. They ensure a company's communication and actions restore public confidence while following the required legal precedent. In these situations, they typically work with various others, including external counsel, to suggest the most viable solution.

Related: What Is Crisis Management? (With How To Create A Plan)

Skills Of A General Counsel

Here are some skills a legal counsel uses to fulfil their duties effectively:

  • Negotiation: When settling litigation with external parties, a corporate counsel typically uses negotiation and persuasion skills to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. They also require these skills to resolve internal conflicts in the workplace about legal strategies and solutions.

  • Presentation and reporting skills: A legal counsel often reports to a company's senior leadership team. This involves presenting detailed reports, suggestions or strategies, which requires excellent reporting skills.

  • Legal and business acumen: Thorough knowledge of legal procedures, laws and regulations of the industry is critical for this role. Additionally, good business acumen can help a corporate counsel support the company's decision-making.

  • Analytical skills: Interpreting technical documents, researching complex arguments and studying previous judgements to devise viable legal strategies requires strong analytical skills. These include critical-thinking, comprehension and problem-solving abilities.

  • Communication and interpersonal skills: People in this role conduct frequent meetings, write detailed documents and articulate their position for legal scrutiny. These duties require effective written and oral communication and excellent interpersonal skills to interact with others.

  • Attention to detail: Legal documents are often lengthy and complex, which requires a close inspection of each sentence. A legal counsel with strong attention to detail skills can review such records effectively and identify discrepancies to ensure maximum accuracy.

  • Documentation: A corporate counsel requires effective documentation skills when taking notes during meetings, analysing complex research papers or recording legal proceedings. These include note-taking, listening and typing abilities.

  • Research skills: Research is integral to this role, and a legal counsel usually performs extensive research regularly. This includes reviewing substantial amounts of literature, summarising data, taking notes and interpreting information.

  • Organisational skills: A typical day for a general or corporate counsel includes several meetings, visits to courthouses or offices, research and documentation. Coordinating these activities requires good time management and organisational skills.

Related: Essential Lawyer Skills (With Definition And Examples)

General Counsel Requirements

Here are some job requirements that employers typically seek for this role:

  • Educational qualifications: Most employers expect candidates applying for this role to have a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree and a valid Certificate of Practice (COP) issued by the Bar Council of India. Large organisations may require a master's degree for this job.

  • Industry knowledge: Companies typically seek lawyers with specialised experience in their industry and functions. Gaining in-depth industry knowledge about laws, compliance, taxes, workplace safety and labour policies can help you access relevant job opportunities.

  • Proven counselling experience: Demonstrable experience in optimising a company's legal operations, winning litigation and resolving conflicts can help you become a viable candidate. Gain experience by working at law firms and practising under senior lawyers.

  • Soft skills: Candidates with strong personalities and relevant soft skills usually perform well in these roles, as communication, negotiation, networking and conflict resolution are key requirements. Improve these skills during your professional training and demonstrate them when applying for jobs.

  • Integrity and ethics: A company's senior leadership puts a lot of trust in their counsel's advice, and performing the duties of this role requires good moral character. Knowing how to act ethically and with integrity can help you grow professionally.

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