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Working As A General Counsel

  • Getting Information
  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Resolving Conflicts and Negotiating with Others
  • Evaluating Information to Determine Compliance with Standards
  • Communicating with Persons Outside Organization
  • Mostly Sitting

  • Make Decisions

  • Stressful

  • $155,700

    Average Salary

What Does A General Counsel Do

A General Counsel ensures that a company operates within the law at all times. They are directly involved in complex business transactions and negotiating critical contracts.

How To Become A General Counsel

All lawyers must have a law degree and must also typically pass a state’s written bar examination.

Education

Becoming a lawyer usually takes 7 years of full-time study after high school—4 years of undergraduate study, followed by 3 years of law school. Most states and jurisdictions require lawyers to complete a juris doctor (J.D.) degree from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). ABA accreditation signifies that the law school—particularly its curricula and faculty—meets certain standards.

A bachelor’s degree is required for entry into most law schools, and courses in English, public speaking, government, history, economics, and mathematics are useful.

Almost all law schools, particularly those approved by the ABA, require applicants to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This test measures applicants’ aptitude for the study of law.

A J.D. degree program includes courses such as constitutional law, contracts, property law, civil procedure, and legal writing. Law students may choose specialized courses in areas such as tax, labor, and corporate law.

Licenses

Prospective lawyers take licensing exams called "bar exams." When a lawyer receives their license to practice law, they are "admitted to the bar."

To practice law in any state, a person must be admitted to the state’s bar under rules established by the jurisdiction’s highest court. The requirements vary by individual states and jurisdictions. For more details on individual state and jurisdiction requirements, visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

Most states require that applicants graduate from an ABA-accredited law school, pass one or more written bar exams, and be found by an admitting board to have the character to represent and advise others. Prior felony convictions, academic misconduct, or a history of substance abuse are just some factors that may disqualify an applicant from being admitted to the bar.

Lawyers who want to practice in more than one state often must take the bar exam in each state.

After graduation, lawyers must keep informed about legal developments that affect their practices. Almost all states require lawyers to participate in continuing legal education either every year or every 3 years. 

Many law schools and state and local bar associations provide continuing legal education courses that help lawyers stay current with recent developments. Courses vary by state and generally cover a subject within the practice of law, such as legal ethics, taxes and tax fraud, and healthcare. Some states allow lawyers to take their continuing education credits through online courses. 

Advancement

Newly hired attorneys usually start as associates and work with more experienced lawyers. After several years, some lawyers may be admitted to partnership of their firm, which means they become partial owners of the firm.

After gaining a few years of work experience, some lawyers go into practice for themselves or move to the legal department of a large corporation. Very few in-house attorneys are hired directly out of law school.

A small number of experienced lawyers are nominated or elected to judgeships. Other lawyers may become full-time law school faculty and administrators. For more information about judges and law school faculty, see the profile on judges and hearing officers and the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Other Experience

Law students often gain practical experience by participating in school-sponsored legal clinics, in a school’s moot court competitions, in practice trials under the supervision of experienced lawyers and judges, and through research and writing on legal issues for a school’s law journals.

Part-time jobs or summer internships in law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal departments also provide valuable experience. Some smaller firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations may hire students as summer associate interns after they have completed their first year at law school. Many larger firms’ summer internship programs are only eligible to law students who have completed their second year. These experiences can help law students decide what kind of legal work they want to focus on in their careers, and these internships may lead directly to a job after graduation.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Lawyers help their clients resolve problems and issues. As a result, they must be able to analyze large amounts of information, determine relevant facts, and propose viable solutions.

Interpersonal skills. Lawyers must win the respect and confidence of their clients by building a trusting relationship, so that clients feel comfortable enough to share personal information related to their case.

Problem-solving skills. Lawyers must separate their emotions and prejudice from their clients’ problems and objectively evaluate the matter. Therefore, good problem-solving skills are important for lawyers, to prepare the best defense and recommendation.

Research skills. Preparing legal advice or representation for a client commonly requires substantial research. All lawyers need to be able to find what applicable laws and regulations apply to a specific matter.

Speaking skills. Clients hire lawyers to speak on their behalf. Lawyers must be able to clearly present and explain their case to arbitrators, mediators, opposing parties, judges, or juries. 

Writing skills. Lawyers need to be precise and specific when preparing documents, such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.

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General Counsel jobs

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Real General Counsel Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
General Counsel Firmenich, Inc. Plainsboro, NJ Feb 02, 2016 $415,000
General Counsel AIP, LLC New York, NY Dec 26, 2016 $400,000
General Counsel Media Most International, Inc. New York, NY Sep 19, 2012 $360,000
General Counsel Argon Investment Management LLC Evergreen, CO Sep 27, 2016 $320,000
General Counsel Infosys Limited Fremont, CA Mar 12, 2012 $276,319
General Counsel Infosys Limited Fremont, CA Mar 02, 2012 $276,319
General Counsel Imaging Advantage LLC Santa Monica, CA Dec 10, 2014 $260,000
General Counsel Caspian Capital, LP New York, NY Jul 15, 2015 $250,000
General Counsel-Europe Goldentree Asset Management, LP New York, NY Mar 01, 2011 $250,000
General Counsel Caspian Capital LP New York, NY Mar 28, 2016 $250,000
General Counsel Caspian Capital, LP New York, NY Jul 22, 2015 $250,000
General Counsel Rec Silicon Inc. Moses Lake, WA Jan 15, 2010 $240,000
General Counsel Construcciones Integrales Del Carmen Corp. Miami, FL Oct 01, 2013 $240,000
General Counsel Grove International Partners (Us) LLC New York, NY Aug 21, 2009 $175,000 -
$250,000
Deputy General Counsel Dufry America, Inc. Miami, FL Oct 01, 2011 $175,000
General Counsel Grove International Partners (Us) LLC New York, NY Oct 01, 2009 $175,000 -
$250,000
General Counsel and Company Secretary Aconex (North America) Inc. San Bruno, CA Aug 15, 2011 $171,500
General Counsel International Center for Transitional Justice New York, NY Oct 11, 2010 $168,000
General Counsel International Center for Transitional Justice New York, NY Oct 15, 2010 $168,000
SR. Director, Office of The General Counsel Kadmon Corporation, LLC New York, NY Apr 15, 2012 $165,000
General Counsel Mitsui & Co. Precious Metals, Inc. New York, NY May 01, 2012 $164,070 -
$200,000
General Counsel Dynamic Capital Management LLC New York, NY Oct 01, 2012 $150,000
Associated General Counselor Ohl USA, Inc. New York, NY Oct 01, 2014 $150,000
General Counsel GSIP Holdings, Inc. New York, NY Nov 25, 2013 $150,000
General Counsel Fashion GPS, Inc. New York, NY Sep 18, 2012 $140,000
Regional General Counsel-Infrastructure Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. Vancouver, WA Dec 11, 2014 $138,341 -
$225,000
Director, Office of The General Counsel Thomson Reuters Holdings Inc. New York, NY Apr 19, 2010 $136,500 -
$212,000
General Counsel Tovia LLC CA Sep 07, 2013 $132,000
General Counsel Tovia LLC CA Mar 17, 2015 $132,000

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Top Skills for A General Counsel

RegulatoryComplianceIntellectualPropertyMattersRealEstateTransactionsHumanResourcesCorporateGovernanceFinancialLegalMattersLegalIssuesLegalDepartmentRiskManagementDueDiligenceLegalResearchJointVentureOversightLegalAdviceLegalDocumentsEmploymentLawPrivacyEthicsLegalAffairs

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Top General Counsel Skills

  1. Regulatory Compliance
  2. Intellectual Property Matters
  3. Real Estate Transactions
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Supervised the company's state and federal corporate and regulatory compliance responsibilities.
  • Managed copyright, trademark, and other intellectual property matters involving the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.
  • Executed strategic real estate transactions and prepared private placement memorandum.
  • Team member on the Human Resources Offer Acquisition team.
  • Handled corporate governance including Board resolutions and minutes.

Top General Counsel Employers

General Counsel Videos

LeadershipTVâ„¢: The Growing Demand for General Counsel Responsibilities on Boards

The Closers Group: Why Do General Counsel Fire Their Lawyers and Law Firms

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