What Is a Chief Legal Officer?

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 Bureau 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.

What is a Chief Legal Officer  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 who work as chief legal officers 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.

Education Requirements

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 who 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.

Salary Information by State

State Employed Avg. Annual Salary Avg. Hourly Pay Top 10% Annual Salary Bottom 10% Annual Salary
Delaware2,660- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -
District of Columbia33,610$226,510$108.9$#$118,980
New Hampshire1,810$130,130$62.56$225,040$66,040
New Jersey23,010$163,690$78.70$#$80,530
New Mexico3,480$110,970$53.35$196,740$60,330
New York86,230$188,900$90.82$#$80,850
North Carolina14,150$146,890$70.62$#$58,430
North Dakota1,120$120,780$58.07$206,890$64,350
Rhode Island**$156,300$75.14$234,420$80,460
South Carolina7,940$115,230$55.40$205,430$51,140
South Dakota1,080$109,190$52.50$198,580$59,140
West Virginia2,400$122,070$58.69$225,080$50,150
Puerto Rico3,820$68,970$33.16$104,760$27,010
Virgin Islands200- NA -- NA -- NA -- NA -

Annual Average Salary: Top 10 States

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $226,510.

These are the top 10 earning states in the field:

  • District of Columbia - $226,510
  • California - $201,530
  • Massachusetts - $196,230
  • New York - $188,900
  • Connecticut - $174,520
  • Colorado - $168,680
  • Nevada - $166,740
  • Texas - $166,620
  • Georgia - $165,560
  • New Jersey - $163,690
* Salary information based on the May 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Lawyers, OCC Code 23-1011, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Career Opportunities

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.

Michael Morales

About Michael Morales

Michael Morales is the Webmaster and Editor in Chief for Legalcareerpaths.com. With a strong background in Web Publishing and Internet Marketing, he currently works as an independent consultant. A former paramedic and ems educator, he enjoys punishing himself doing triathlons and endurance sports. Michael currently lives in sunny Northern California, home of the highest tax rates in the world.

3 Responses to What Is a Chief Legal Officer?

  1. Avatar
    Daryl Lang #

    As a key member of the executive team, a CLO helps steer the company’s strategic decisions while safeguarding its legal interests, making the role essential in today’s complex business environment.

  2. Avatar
    Adam Young #

    The chief legal officer often collaborates closely with external law firms when necessary and may manage an in-house legal team, ensuring the organization’s legal needs are met efficiently.

  3. Avatar
    Lisa Hollis #

    A CLO’s responsibilities can encompass a wide range of legal areas, including contract law, employment law, intellectual property, corporate governance, and regulatory compliance.

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