General Counsel Job Description

by Steve Amoia
General counselors are in-house legal experts for a variety of business entities.

General counselors are in-house legal experts for a variety of business entities.

General counselors, also known as in-house or corporate counselors, are the chief legal advisers for individual companies, government agencies and colleges and universities. They work with all levels of an organization and must be well-versed in how businesses operate internally and externally. General counselors also supervise the work of less experienced associates. A high degree of professional ethics, excellent judgement along with analytical, interpersonal, listening, oral and written communication skills are important attributes for general counselors.


The main duty of a general counselor is to provide expert legal advice to senior level management, board members, university officials and any employee who acts on behalf of an organization. They must develop an in-depth understanding of how legal issues affect their organizations and outside clients. General counselors set internal corporate governance policies and manage the impact of external factors such as contractual matters, litigation, real property transactions, taxation policies and city, state and federal regulatory matters. According to Sarah Helene Duggan, an associate professor of law at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C., "General counsel are often the first lawyers to hear of matters requiring legal input and the last to sign off before proposed actions become a reality."


Future house counsels must successfully complete rigorous educational requirements. A bachelor's degree is a usual entry requirement into an accredited law school. Undergraduate courses in business law, communications, economics, English, economics, finance, government, Latin, political science and mathematics are beneficial. Law school candidates must pass an entrance exam called a LSAT. Juris doctor programs expose students to civil procedure and legal writing concepts along with contractual, constitutional, corporate and property law classes. Aspiring house counsels benefit from summer internships at law firms and government agencies.

Bar Examinations

General counsels must pass a state or a multi-state licensing bar examination to practice law in the United States. The National Conference of Bar Examiners states that applicants must complete at least 75 percent of the requirements for a baccalaureate degree at an accredited college or university, hold a juris doctor or a bachelor of laws degree from an accredited law school and complete a character and fitness screening before sitting for the exam. Candidates are tested on fundamental subject matter commonly taught in law schools, although legal topics specific to certain state jurisdictions may be included.

Anticipated Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups government and private practice lawyers in its salary compilations. Attorneys earned a mean hourly wage of $62.74 and an annual mean salary of $130,490 as of May 2011. Entry level lawyers, or the lowest 10 percent of workers, earned $54,120 or less annually. The most experienced attorneys, or the highest 10 percent of earners, saw annual wages of $166,810 or more, according to the BLS. The legal services industry produced the highest mean salaries for lawyers in industries with at least 13,230 workers: $65.95 per hour and $137,170 yearly, according to the BLS.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated number of new jobs for attorneys is projected to increase by 73,600, or 10 percent, through 2020. This projection compares with an average 14 percent growth rate in all other U.S. occupations monitored by the BLS. Competition for new jobs will be keen due to an imbalance between the limited number of available positions and a greater pool of candidates. The BLS reports that newly graduated lawyers who are open to relocation will have better employment opportunities.

About the Author

Steve Amoia is a writer, book reviewer and translator from Washington, D.C. He began his writing career as a software technical writer. Amoia focuses on career-related themes, Chinese martial/healing arts and international soccer journalism.

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