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A day in the life of a general counsel

Defining the Legal Counsel Role: What Does a General Counsel Do?

A General Counsel (GC), also known as a Chief Legal Officer or Corporate Counsel, is a company’s primary legal advisor. The definition of legal counsel in this context refers to the main attorney who provides legal advice to the company. But what does a Legal/General Counsel do?

The GC typically reports directly to the CEO, as their counsel in law is integral to business decisions. According to the Bar Association of San Francisco, about 70% of general counsels focus on corporate transactional work, while 28% handle compliance, and 21% are charged with board relations. This broad range of responsibilities underscores the “general” in general counsel, or as some might say, the “counsel general.”

The general counsel job description can encompass many areas of the law - antitrust, patent, trademark protection, merger and acquisition activity, labor and employment law. This means that the meaning of legal counsel can vary depending on the role.

The GC’s day-to-day job can touch on all areas of a company, handling legal issues for every department and ensuring all marketing communications are above board. They can be charged with handling legal crises, compliance issues, public policy advocacy, labor law, tax work, issues around intellectual property, and more.

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

What is a Legal Counsel? The Quintessential Personality of a General Counsel

General counsel positions are highly sought-after and involve a lot of responsibility. Those with the right mix of attributes generally land the best positions first. These personality traits include sound judgment, leadership, integrity, the ability to think intuitively and from learned experience, excellent communication skills, and 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. They are 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.

What is a Corporate Counsel? 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. View our latest legal jobs here.

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How much a compliance officer is paid is dependent on location, experience and sector. For example a general counsel working for a large Biotech organization can expect to earn betwen $410-805k, whereas a general counsel working for a Fintech start-up can expect a salary of around $260-365k. Take a look at our 2024 Salary Calculator, which includes salary and market insights for permanent, contract and interim positions across the USA in New York, California and Austin across a variety of disciplines.

A General Counsel needs to excel in legal expertise, uphold high ethical standards, communicate effectively, and demonstrate strong leadership. They should be strategic thinkers, able to anticipate and prevent potential legal issues. Adaptability is key in the face of changing legal landscapes, and they must foster an environment of transparency and honesty. These qualities, while not exhaustive, are crucial for a General Counsel to succeed in their role.

Robert Walters are pecialists in legal and compliance: We have established a strong presence in the US market as legal & compliance recruitment experts - working extensively within public sector, in-house and private practice firms.

Our team have a strong understanding of the legal market in with many of our recruitment consultants having a background in law including ex-lawyers, giving us the ability to have an in depth understanding of your needs. Take a look at our latest roles here.

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