Posted by: Mar 04, 2024

A General Counsel plays a pivotal and multifaceted role in the legal landscape of organizations. Their job is to offer legal advice and guidance to the company, manage legal risks, and supervise legal operations. They typically deal with the daily legal affairs of corporate existence, working on contracts, compliance, litigation, and serve as a legal advisor to the executive team and board of directors. The General Counsel also frequently collaborates with other departments to ensure legal compliance and minimize legal risks throughout the organization. This article explores what a General Counsel is, delves into their essential functions and responsibilities, and why their position in today’s complex business environment is so critical.

What Does a General Counsel Do?

The role of a General Counsel is multifaceted, encompassing a wide range of responsibilities crucial to a business’s functioning and success. They are usually the chief legal officer within an organization responsible for overseeing all legal matters and providing legal advice to senior management. A General Counsel’s duties often include the following.

  • Legal Advice. General Counsel provides legal guidance and counsel to senior management on various issues, including corporate governance, regulatory compliance, and risk management.
  • Contract Management.  General Counsel is often responsible for reviewing, drafting, and negotiating contracts to ensure they are legally sound and protect the organization’s interests.
  • Compliance. An essential aspect of a General Counsel’s duties involves ensuring the organization complies with relevant laws and regulations, including internal policies and procedures.
  • Litigation Management. The General Counsel can also serve as a litigator, managing and overseeing lawsuits and other legal disputes involving the organization.
  • Risk Management. The General Counsel also identifies and mitigates legal risks that could impact the organization’s reputation or financial standing.
  • Corporate Governance. A General Counsel’s role also involves ensuring compliance with corporate governance best practices.
  • External Counsel Management. Sometimes, companies hire outside general counsel to help with certain tasks or handle specific deals. The General Counsel will oversee and manage these relationships if a company has outside general counsel.

Overall, a General Counsel must wear many hats and play a unique and meaningful role in the operation of a business. 

Chief Legal Officer vs General Counsel

Although “Chief Legal Officer” and “General Counsel” are often used interchangeably, there can be some nuanced differences depending on the organization. Generally, both roles refer to the top legal position within a company, but their scope and responsibilities can vary. A Chief Legal Officer typically has a broader role encompassing legal matters and strategic business decisions. They may be involved in corporate governance, regulatory compliance, and risk management. Additionally, they may oversee other departments beyond legal, such as compliance or ethics. A General Counsel means that the attorney focuses more on legal matters specifically. They provide legal advice, draft and review contracts, manage litigation, and ensure the company complies with relevant laws and regulations. However, in some organizations, the roles of General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer are synonymous, and the distinction is not always clear-cut.

Do All Businesses Have General Counsel?

Not all businesses have a General Counsel, and not all need one. Hiring a General Counsel full-time depends on the size and complexity of the business, as well as its legal needs. Small businesses or startups may not have dedicated General Counsel but may seek legal advice from external lawyers on an as-needed basis. Larger corporations or companies operating in heavily regulated industries are more likely to have a General Counsel or a legal department to handle their legal affairs. Additionally, some businesses may outsource their legal needs to law firms or legal service providers instead of having an in-house General Counsel.

When Might My Business Need to Consider Hiring a General Counsel?

Your business may need to consider hiring a General Counsel when it reaches a certain size or complexity, or when it faces specific legal challenges. Some reasons a business might consider bringing a legal expert on full-time include:

  • When your business’s growth brings additional legal challenges and needs,
  • If your business is in a heavily regulated industry,
  • If your business is in a frequently litigated industry,
  • To manage risk,
  • To handle contract negotiation and management, or
  • Overseeing compliance requirements.

These are some reasons a business might consider permanently bringing a General Counsel to their team. However, many businesses opt to hire outside General Counsel on an as-needed basis rather than hiring one full-time. It can be the more cost-effective choice as businesses only pay for legal services when needed rather than maintaining a full-time salary and benefits package. Additionally, hiring outside General Counsel offers flexibility, allowing businesses to scale legal services up or down based on their changing needs.

Contact Us

If you’re a business owner involved in a legal dispute or are just starting, the team at The Curley Law Firm is here to help. We handle a wide range of corporate law matters from formation to litigation and have over a decade of experience to draw on. Call our office today or fill out our online contact form.