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Legal Counsel Jobs: Career Options, Duties and Requirements

Legal counsel jobs require significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

When people need legal advice, they might seek legal counsel. Those who wish to serve as legal counsel privately or in an in-house capacity need to receive a Juris Doctor degree.

Essential Information

The term legal counsel is most often associated with lawyers who work outside the traditional environment of a law firm. Companies keep lawyers on staff to manage the legal issues that pertain to the conduct of business. Prospective legal counselors should seek a law degree from an institution endorsed by the American Bar Association (ABA). Law degree programs offer preparation for a specific field, from constitutional law to public international law, and may offer workshops or internships to provide hands-on experience.

Education Requirements Juris Doctor degree from an ABA-accredited law school
Licensure Requirements Licensure required in all states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for lawyers
Median Salary (2015)* $115,820 for lawyers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Legal Counsel Career Options

Lawyers who work in legal counsel positions generally work in a variety of environments. They may provide counsel through their own private practice or work for a company as in-house counsel. The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) website listed almost 800 job postings for this line of work in November 2013. Some of the organizations seeking in-house counsel during that period included:

  • Insurance companies
  • Hotel chains
  • Entertainment companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Educational institutions
  • Real estate companies
  • Mining and exploration companies

Legal Counsel Job Duties

Despite the variety of practice areas for legal counsel positions, there are general tasks and responsibilities. The primary role of the lawyer is to ensure that the business practices are in compliance with current laws, which requires not only being familiar with applicable law, but an understanding of the business goals. There is also research, case evaluation and document preparation, as well as litigation. Organizations may also expect their legal counsel to specialize in one or two relevant areas, such as:

  • Intellectual property
  • Real estate
  • Employment and labor
  • Securities
  • Media and publishing
  • International
  • Commercial
  • Technology

Legal Counsel Job Requirements

The ACC website also noted that, at a minimum, employers generally require a law degree from an institution accredited by the American Bar Association, evidence of passing the bar and ethics exams, 5-7 years of experience and expertise in one or two fields relevant to the business. Since legal counsel is often interfacing between the company and clients, there may also be significant emphasis on interpersonal skills. Some companies with international business interests also require applicants to be fluent in another language.

Certification options also exist for specialty practice areas of the law. For example, the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification offers board certified designations for trial, criminal, social security disability and family law.

Legal Counsel Career Outlook

PayScale.com listed a median annual salary of $103,566 for lawyers, including legal counsel positions, as of 2016. The total wage range for most professionals working in this field was between $63,327 and over $171,464 per year, the site indicated. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of lawyers of all kinds will increase by 6% from 2014-2024, a rate that is about average as compared to projected rates for all jobs.

Anyone who wants to pursue a legal counsel career needs to achieve a Juris Doctor degree. While some people who provide legal counsel work for themselves, others can serve as in-house counsel for organizations that include hotel chains, pharmaceutical companies and real estate companies, among others.


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