Chief legal officers (or general counsels) are chief lawyers and have the responsibility of overseeing every legal aspect of a business or law firm. As the head lawyer, they are paid a premium salary which according to the Bureu of Labor Statistics (BLS) can be as high as $187,199 (90th percentile in 2013) or more depending on the industry. The majority of the time a chief legal officer will advise the business when changes are made to the laws and also sets up training on legal matters for employees when applicable. In addition, a chief legal officer is often responsible for investigating issues of non-compliance and suggesting measures to take if non-compliance starts to become a bigger issue. In cases where a business is involved in a lawsuit, the chief legal officer may act as the chief litigator.
This includes making sure that the company is in compliance with regulatory codes, which typically involves making sure filings are made on time to the right agencies and are filled out correctly. Another member of the legal team may prepare the document, but typically the chief legal officer will have to sign off on them.
In addition, the chief legal officer has to keep up to date on any legal changes that are made that apply to the specific industry where he/she works. This may be accomplished by paying attention to news within the industry and by reading specific trade publications. Many lawyers will also have a team of professionals that they share relevant information with. The chief legal officer may provide input to those making decisions about certain laws if the proposal is still going through the process of becoming approved.
Becoming a Chief Legal Officer
Becoming a chief legal officer can take years as a person must obtain a large amount of schooling as well as experience in order to enter the profession. The majority of people that work as a chief legal officer have worked in careers that are in a related field first because most corporations require a certain amount of experience.
When choosing a career as a chief legal officer it is important to research the duties, job descriptions, salary, benefits, and requirements. The job description will vary based on the company, but will offer a general idea of the steps that are necessary in order to enter this field.
A bachelor’s degree in business law or pre-law studies is recommended in order to enroll in law school. During undergraduate studies a person will need to display excellence in order to be accepted into a quality law school. Enrolling in courses that will help you enter law school and eventually become a chief legal officer is recommended. These courses include: cyber law, international law, argumentation theory, public speaking, communication courses, communication law, symbolic logic, and an introductory course to legal practice. Apply for internships during your undergraduate coursework in order to get experience in the field.
During law school it is important to choose an area of legal focus. One recommendation for a person that is interested in becoming a legal officer is corporate law. Most law schools require a person to take courses in general law topics, but later on allow a person to focus more on their interests. Courses that may help with future employment as a chief legal officer include intellectual property law, corporate governance, corporate finance, public company disclosure, corporate professional responsibility, and advanced corporate transactions.
Many companies will require that a person work in lower level positions for a number of years before becoming a chief legal officer. The position requires certain personality traits including leadership skills and organization. As a chief legal officer a person is responsible for all legal issues involving the company. A person seeking this position with a company needs to expect years of hard work before being promoted.