How to Become a

General Counsel

The complete career guide to be a General Counsel: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $136,260
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 5.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • High Income Potential
    Career Attribute

A lawyer who works as a general counsel is typically employed by a business rather than a law firm. The general counsel commonly reports directly to the CEO and handles all legal counsel, compliance reporting, and legal documentation for the company. He/she often manages a team of staff lawyers.


What is a General Counsel?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in general counsel roles:

  • Dictate and oversee legal processes and requirements for all company departments, ensuring adherence to compliance regulations, labor laws, tax laws, etc.
  • Oversee and manage legal work performed by staff lawyers, or outside law agencies contracted by the business to conduct legal work
  • Prepare legal paperwork and arguments in conjunction with suits filed against a company, or for suits a company is filing against another company or individual
  • Set strategies and implement goals from a legal perspective
  • Assist with the develop of workflows related to intellectual property protection, risk management, and hiring compliance

A Day in the Life

A general counsel is an experienced lawyer who’s been hired by a business or corporation to oversee all legal compliance, documentation, and proceedings for that company. Usually, the general counsel is more of a management position, providing guidance, strategy, and oversight more commonly than executing specific legal tasks. The general counsel usually manages a team of lawyers which might be composed of company employees or contracted representatives from a vendor law firm.

The primary goal of a general counsel is to ensure legal compliance for the company. This requires oversight of nearly all company departments, and as such, usually leads to the general counsel reporting directly to the company’s CEO. The general counsel works with human resources to ensure compliance with employment laws and regulations, with IT departments to ensure data safety and compliance, and with accounting to guarantee adherence to tax laws. These are just a few of many examples.

The general counsel sets company strategy and goals from a legal perspective and assists with the implementation of new policies, procedures, and workflows designed to promote legal compliance. The role of the general counsel is complex and requires significant expertise, sound judgement, and effective management skills. In some cases, the general counsel may need to propose solutions to a board of directors to seek approval or encourage adoption of strategies and suggestions.

Typical Work Schedule

Most individuals who work as general counsels work full-time schedules during normal business hours. However, overtime may be common in this role because of the expansive responsibilities, and evening or weekend work may be required to finalize paperwork, document strategies, or prepare presentations.

Typical Employers

Many companies rely on general counsels to advise on legal matters, but large companies tend to employ general counsels more commonly than mid-size and small businesses who are more likely to utilize contracted lawyers. Additionally, highly regulated industries like healthcare, finance, and manufacturing are more likely to hire and depend on staff lawyers managed by a general counsel.


How To Become a General Counsel

The first step in becoming a general counsel is to earn a bachelor’s degree. While your undergraduate major is flexible for other areas of legal practice, aspiring general counsels are best served to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business or business administration. Working as a general counsel requires proficiency in both law and management, so focusing your undergraduate coursework on studying general business and management concepts is a great way to prepare for a career as a general counsel.

After completing a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to enroll in law school. In law school, you’ll transition from the study of business to the study of law, learning the basics of practicing as a lawyer and working within the judicial system. Most law school programs require three years of study and result in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. After completing law school, you’ll need to pass the bar exam in at least one state—ideally the state you plan to work in—to become licensed as a practicing lawyer.

From there, becoming a general counsel is a matter or earning experience and climbing the ladder. Some lawyers start out in private practice and move into corporate lawyer positions later in their careers, and some begin their careers in entry-level legal positions at large corporations. Regardless of the path you take, you’ll need many years of legal experience before you’ll qualify for general counsel positions, and experience managing other lawyers as a firm partner or chief counselor can help as well.


General Counsel Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$76,300

Average

$136,260

High Range

---

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$37/hr

Average

$66/hr

High Range

---

How do General Counsel salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, General Counsel's can make an average annual salary of $136,260, or $66 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $76,300 or $37 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #22 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally


Highest Education Among General Counsels

  • 91%   Doctorate
  • 4.1%   Masters
  • 3.5%   Bachelors
  • 0.5%   Associates
  • 0.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.1%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

778,700

2024 Est. Jobs

822,500

Job Growth Rate

5.6%

Est. New Jobs

43,800

How does General Counsel job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 43,800 jobs for a total of 822,500 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 5.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #401 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally


What Companies Employ The Most General Counsels

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Legal services 376,100 22,100 22%
Self-employed workers 165,500 -1,800 -2%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 55,600 5,300 5%

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