A day in the life of a general counsel

A general counsel, sometimes called GC, chief legal officer, or corporate counsel, is a company’s main attorney and primary source of legal advice...

The GC typically reports directly to the CEO, because his or her opinions are integral to business decisions. The Bar Association of San Francisco reports that about 70% of general counsels focus on corporate transactional work, while 28% handle compliance, and 21% are charged with board relations.

Depending on the role, his job can encompass many areas of the law-antitrust, patent, trademark protection, merger and acquisition activity, labor and employment law. 

The GC’s day-to-day job can touch on all areas of a company, handling legal issues for every department and making sure all marketing communications are above the board. He can be charged with handling legal crises, compliance issues, public policy advocacy, labor law, tax work, issues around intellectual property, and more. This breath of responsibility underscores the “general” in general counsel.

“As regulations change and the threat of litigation rises, the importance of lawyers has never been greater,” says Alice Thomson, recruitment consultant in the legal division at Robert Walters New York.

The quintessential personality of a General Counsel

General counsel positions are highly sought-after and involve a lot of responsibility, so those with the right mix of attributes generally land the best positions first. These personality traits include:

  • Sound judgment and the ability to evaluate options fairly
  • Leadership and a visionary quality
  • Absolute integrity
  • The ability to think intuitively and from learned experience
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Broad legal subject matter expertise

A major aspect of the general counsel’s job is to keep on top of laws that might affect the organization and industry. He is also often charged with staying abreast of all company matters, which means attending board meetings and committee meetings.

"The general counsel, not the senior partner in the law firm, is now often the go-to counselor for the CEO and the board on law, ethics, public policy, corporate citizenship, and country and geopolitical risk," says Alice.

The daily to-do's of a General Counsel

General counsels often start their days rather early in order to communicate with international offices. They stay busy meeting with colleagues on a wide range of matters, responding to emails from business units, and imparting advice on various legal issues. And when they have spare time, they conduct research in order to stay up-to-date on industry news, policies, and legislature which could affect the company.

Here are some of the types of things a general counsel may touch on in his daily job:

  • Legal requests from various departments
  • Managing leasing agreements
  • Due diligence of acquisitions and mergers
  • Legal compliance matters
  • Status reports on cases
  • Research and analysis into proposed laws and regulations

Throughout the day, almost everything the general counsel touches affects the overall business, although priorities can shift from day-to-day, and the role can involve some degree of travel, depending on the company.

Now considered a core member of the top management team, the general counsel is an important leader in any company.

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