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Chief Legal Officer Vs. General Counsel

Aug 31, 2019

Take a look at the difference between a Chief Legal Officer and a General Counsel. Explore information on salary, job outlook, skills required and responsibilities of each role.

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Comparing Chief Legal Officer to General Counsel

Although both the Chief Legal Officer and the General Counsel are high level positions in charge of a company's legal matters, the Chief Legal Officer is required to be a business strategist while the General Counsel is mostly concerned with legal issues. Unlike a General Counsel, the Chief Legal Officer is required to have additional business and technology knowledge in addition to legal expertise.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2019)* Job Growth (2016-2026)**
Chief Legal Officer Bachelor's and Juris Doctor degrees $204,576 8% (Top Executives)
General Counsel Bachelor's and Juris Doctor degrees $162,310 8% (Lawyers)

Sources: *Payscale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of a Chief Legal Officer vs. General Counsel

The Chief Legal Officer is a top executive who works with other chief executives to make business decisions promoting growth. The General Counsel is primarily an advisor who aims to limit the company's legal risk. Both roles manage a company's legal teams and require deep industry expertise and management experience. However, the Chief Legal Officer may manage additional technology and operations teams. The Chief Legal Officer may also be responsible for revenue creation.

Chief Legal Officer

The Chief Legal Officer understands a company's business model and builds internal procedures for legal matters. He/she must balance a company's need for profits with its legal responsibilities. A Chief Legal Officer is often a lawyer who has been promoted internally from a senior counsel role. The Chief Legal Officer may earn performance based incentives to increase company value. Depending on the complexity of the role, long works hours and extensive travel may be required.

Job responsibilities of a Chief Legal Officer include:

  • Structure internal and external legal teams
  • Advise top executives and Board on expansion plans and client discussions
  • Manage legal costs
  • Implement technologies to manage legal work and cybersecurity
  • Monitor for any firm misconduct

General Counsel

The General Counsel oversees corporate governance and legal compliance of an organization. The General Counsel's main responsibility is to ensure that all legal obligations are fulfilled, even at the expense of business goals. He/she may report to the Chief Legal Officer. It is also common for companies to have a General Counsel who fulfills both the General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer duties. Otherwise, a General Counsel may be promoted to a Chief Legal Officer role. General Counsels may work long hours to research and review legal matters.

Job responsibilities of a General Counsel include:

  • Manage the company's legal teams
  • Represent the company in court and private legal matters
  • Advise company executives on legal issues
  • Manage communication and compliance with government agencies
  • Outsource work to third-party law firms

Related Careers

If you are considering the General Counsel role, you may want to compare with the role of a specialist in family law. Those intrigued by the Chief Legal Officer role may be interested in a Chief Financial Officer position, as it is also an executive position.

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