The In-House Legal Team Roles: Guide to Titles & Responsibilities

June 27, 2024

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An in-house legal team provides vital legal services and counsel to support a company's business objectives and operations. When the legal department is structured effectively, it can deliver outsized impact on the business. The team is comprised of attorneys and other legal professional. Here is an overview of common titles and roles found within an in-house legal department and what their responsibilities are.

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Chief Legal Officer 

Some companies use the title chief legal officer (CLO) instead of general counsel (learn more about the differences between the CLO and GC here and a deep dive into their roles) to denote the top legal executive. The CLO may have additional responsibilities beyond managing in-house lawyers, such as overseeing government relations, public policy, compliance, and corporate governance matters. They are part of the C-suite executive team and work closely with the CEO and board leaders. The CLO title highlights the strategic importance of this role overseeing key legal and compliance functions.

The ideal CLO possesses strong leadership, strategic thinking, and excellent communication skills. They should have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, a minimum of 15 years of legal experience, and extensive expertise in corporate law, compliance, and governance. Experience in a senior legal position within a large organization is highly valuable. According to Spotdraft, on average, a Chief Legal Officer makes $1,307,405,  ncluding base pay, bonuses, and equity.

General Counsel

The general counsel is the head attorney in an in-house legal department and is responsible for overseeing all legal matters impacting the company. They manage the team of in-house lawyers and staff and report directly to the CEO and board of directors. The general counsel provides strategic guidance on legal issues, manages compliance and risk mitigation, reviews contracts, and handles other legal duties to protect the company's interests. As the top legal executive, the general counsel plays a critical role in aligning the law department's work with business goals.

A successful General Counsel has a comprehensive understanding of business operations, excellent judgment, and superior problem-solving skills. A JD degree and at least 10-15 years of legal experience, with a significant portion in a corporate setting, are required. Experience managing a legal team and familiarity with corporate governance are essential. According to Spotdraft's research, on average, a General Counsel makes $675,775, including base pay, bonuses, and equity. In comparison, a Chief Legal Officer’s compensation can reach $1,307,405.

Deputy General Counsel

The deputy general counsel is second-in-command in the legal department. They assist the general counsel in managing lawyers and legal staff and overseeing major legal functions. The deputy general counsel may have their own specialty area, like intellectual property, labor law, litigation, etc. They act on behalf of the GC when needed and provide legal guidance and services across the business. The deputy GC helps distribute the workload and responsibilities of the legal department.

This role demands excellent leadership, organizational, and interpersonal skills. A JD degree, at least 10 years of legal experience, and specialized expertise in a relevant legal area are necessary. Experience in a corporate legal department and managing a team are highly valued.

Chief Compliance Officer

The chief compliance officer (CCO) heads the company's compliance program which ensures the company and employees operate ethically, legally, and according to regulations. They oversee internal policies and controls to identify legal and regulatory risks and implement solutions. The CCO also monitors business activities for compliance and may lead ethics and compliance training. This role is critical for mitigating compliance risks and liabilities.

Key skills include a deep understanding of regulatory requirements, strong analytical and problem-solving abilities, and excellent communication skills. A background in law, finance, or business (JD, CPA, or MBA) is typically required, along with 10+ years of experience in compliance roles. Experience in a regulated industry is a plus.

Chief Intellectual Property Counsel

The chief IP counsel leads the company's strategies around patents, trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property. They oversee the IP portfolio and enforcement, provide guidance on IP matters, review contracts and licensing agreements, manage disputes and litigation, and work to protect and extract value from the company's IP assets. Skilled IP management is essential for technology companies and innovation-driven businesses. 

Essential skills include a strong understanding of IP law, strategic thinking, and excellent negotiation skills. A JD degree and 10+ years of experience in IP law, with significant experience in patent and trademark law, are required. A background in science or engineering can be beneficial for technology-focused companies.

Assistant General Counsel  or Associate General Counsel (AGC)

The AGC has a broad legal practice to provide legal support across many areas. They assist with commercial transactions, intellectual property matters, compliance issues, disputes, and other legal needs under the direction of the general counsel. The assistant GC may manage discrete projects or legal functions. The assistant GC helps distribute the general counsel's wide-ranging responsibilities.

Strong analytical skills, attention to detail, and the ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously are crucial. A JD degree and at least 7-10 years of legal experience in a corporate setting are necessary. Experience in commercial transactions or compliance is often required.

 

Legal Director/Head of Legal 

Legal directors or heads of legal manage an important legal function, group within the department, or local/regional office. They may oversee a major practice area or subset of attorneys focused on supporting certain businesses or divisions. Legal directors provide leadership for distinct legal services aligned to business priorities. They're focused on delivering effective and efficient legal services as the business and legal team scales. They are involved in hiring, strategic planning, provide team guidance, and oversee team and workload management.

This role requires strong leadership, strategic planning, and team management skills. A JD degree and 10+ years of legal experience, with substantial time in a management role, are essential. Experience in a specific legal practice area relevant to the business is also important.

Senior Legal Counsel 

Senior legal counsel are experienced attorneys who handle high-level legal matters within their specialty areas. They take on complex legal work, oversee junior lawyers, provide legal advice to executives, and manage key legal processes. Senior counsel may focus on areas like mergers & acquisitions, labor & employment, litigation, etc. Their expertise in specific legal practices brings tremendous value to the company. Deep expertise in a specialized area of law, strong advisory skills, and the ability to handle complex legal matters are important.

Legal Counsel

Legal counsel are attorneys who provide day-to-day legal request services, advice, and matter management in support of the business units and functions they support. They apply their legal expertise to contracts, compliance, disputes, transactions, and other matters to mitigate risk and facilitate business objectives. Legal counsel roles are often specialized by area of law. Targeted legal support helps the business perform optimally within the law. Strong analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills are essential. A JD degree and experience in a specific legal area are required. Experience in a corporate legal department is beneficial.

Commercial/Contracts Counsel

Commercial or contracts counsel focus on business transactions and commercial agreements. They assist with negotiations, draft and review business contracts such as sales agreements and vendor contracts, advise on deal structures and terms, and manage the contract lifecycle. This role optimizes commercial arrangements to generate business value and revenue growth. Securing favorable contracts is vital for business success. Excellent negotiation, drafting, and analytical skills are crucial. A JD degree and  experience in commercial law, including contract negotiation and management, is highly recommended.

Employment/Labor Counsel

Employment or labor lawyers handle legal matters related to the company's workforce. They provide guidance on employment laws and regulations, draft workplace policies, manage litigation, and advise on employee relations issues like harassment claims, discrimination, disability accommodations, and terminations. Protecting the company from employment lawsuits and liabilities is crucial. Strong knowledge of employment laws, excellent advisory skills, and the ability to manage litigation are essential. A JD degree and 5-10 years of experience in employment law are typical. Experience in a corporate setting is beneficial.

Litigation Counsel

Litigation counsel manages lawsuits, regulatory investigations, and other disputes involving the company. They handle pre-trial activities like filing motions and responses, discovery, and settlement negotiations. Litigation counsel coordinates with outside counsel if needed and advises business leaders on litigation strategy. Skilled litigation management can positively impact case outcomes. 

Regulatory Counsel 

Regulatory lawyers specialize in legal matters involving industry regulations. They interpret laws issued by regulatory agencies, advise on compliance requirements, represent the company before regulators, and develop strategies for remaining compliant with regulatory obligations. Regulatory expertise helps avoid fines, sanctions and business disruptions. In-depth knowledge of regulatory laws, excellent advisory skills, and the ability to manage compliance programs are essential. A Juris Doctor (JD) degree and experience in regulatory law are critical.

Privacy/Data Security Counsel

Privacy and data security lawyers focus on laws around consumer privacy and cybersecurity. They advise on regulations for collecting/using personal data, implement privacy and security programs, respond to data breaches, and stay current on evolving privacy and data protection laws. Privacy counsel help safeguard consumer trust and the company's reputation. Strong knowledge of privacy laws, cybersecurity, and data protection regulations, along with excellent advisory skills, are crucial. A Juris Doctor (JD) degree and experience in privacy or data security law are required.

Product Counsel

Product counsel are lawyers who specialize in advising on legal issues related to products. They review product designs, features, messaging, and marketing for compliance and to identify potential liabilities, especially around safety, consumer protection, and regulated industries like medical devices. Product counsel stay up-to-date on regulations and case law impacting product development. They work cross-functionally to manage risks early in the product lifecycle, while also helping teams move quickly and maintain compliance. Having skilled product legal advice allows companies to get innovative products to market fast without incurring legal troubles.

Real Estate Counsel

Real estate counsel provide legal services related to the company's real property assets and facilities. They assist with property acquisitions and dispositions, oversee leases, manage zoning and land use issues, handle financing, support construction projects, and mitigate legal risks associated with real estate. Real estate law expertise facilitates optimal use of corporate facilities and assets.

Corporate Secretary/Governance Counsel 

The corporate secretary or governance counsel leads compliance with securities laws and corporate governance rules and regulations. They maintain corporate records, support the board of directors, and provide guidance on legal issues related to shareholder rights and organizational leadership. This role helps ensure lawful and ethical business governance.

Legal Operations Manager 

A legal operations manager is responsible for optimizing legal department operations, processes, and strategies. They oversee legal budgets, identify opportunities to control costs and increase efficiency, implement legal technology (legaltech) tools such as legal intake, triage, and workflow automation software, manage outside counsel relationships, improve legal services delivery, and provide general operations support. The legal ops manager often leads project management, reporting and data analysis, and process improvement initiatives to enhance the legal function's overall performance and strategic value to the business. This role aligns the legal department to business objectives.

Paralegal/Legal Assistant

Paralegals support attorneys by preparing documents, performing legal research, obtaining affidavits, organizing files, tracking deadlines, gathering evidence, and assisting with other aspects of legal work. They are typically supervised by attorneys and help coordinate smooth legal operations. Paralegals increase legal productivity and quality of work.

How much do in-house legal teams get paid?

Some helpful resources for understanding in-house legal team compensation include:

  1. BarkerGilmore’s annual 2024 In-House Counsel Compensation Report, which covers compensation for US-based in-house counsel and includes insights into the various factors influencing compensation, including job type, company type, location, practice area, law school rank, law firm experience, and more.
  2. Spotdraft's Legal Counsel Compensation Reports , which covers compensation for US-based in-house teams by role, including contract managers and legal operations.
  3. Above the Law's 2023 In-House Compensation Report, which covers base pay, bonuses, raises, stock, and more, including data by industry, geography, company-size and more for US-based roles.

Conclusion

An in-house legal team encompasses many diverse titles and talent. Attorneys in roles like general counsel, senior legal counsel, corporate secretary, and chief compliance officer provide strategic guidance and protect the company's interests. Non-attorney legal professionals also make vital contributions in management and support roles. There is great variation between companies in how responsibilities are distributed based on industry, legal needs, and organization. But in general, the in-house legal function helps to mitigate risks and create optimal conditions for business success. For further insights on enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of legal teams, check out our post on 5 ways for legal effectiveness.

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