Working in the legal world can be very different, depending on your specialty. The average salary of legal professionals differentiates depending on whether they’re corporate counsel, in-house counsel, or other forms of attorneys. Reaching the general counsel salary is what most legal professionals aspire for.
General counsel salaries usually depend on your level of experience, organizations, and the industry. However, generally, the general counsel role tends to pay more than the national average.
In this article, we’ll go over the average general counsel salary, along with their duties, responsibilities, and the path to become the ideal general counsel.
Let’s get started.
Who is a General Counsel, and What Do General Counsels Do?
As the job title suggests, general counsels are the heads of the legal department at a company or governmental agency. They’re also known as the chief lawyer, chief counsel, or the chief legal officer (CLO).
Typically, general counsels manage an entire legal department that consists of an associate general counsel, senior counsel, assistant general counsel, associate attorneys, house lawyers, and various outside counsel at times.
General counsel works along with company executives and vice presidents. They directly offer recommendations and legal counsel to the CEO and president of the organization.
Therefore, the GC salary tends to be much higher than the typical attorney or house counsel salary.
Furthermore, the general counsel also oversees all the legal issues in other departments, such as marketing, financial services, engineering, human resources, and several other departments.
The general counsel also has to ensure that the organization or governmental agency is following rules and regulations. That includes corporate compliance with labor laws, healthcare regulations, compensation package rules, and more.
At times, organizations may have the general counsel manage some administrative tasks that go beyond their scope.
Lastly, general counsel may actively be involved in crisis management, compliance reporting, and public policy advocacy. In other instances, they may manage intellectual property, mergers & acquisitions, accessibility & labor laws, and do tax work.
Typical Duties and Responsibilities of a General Counsel
In any case, the typical duties and responsibilities of a general counsel depend on the industry, organization, or governmental agency.
However, on average, a general counsel has the following responsibilities.
- Head the legal department of the organization or agency.
- Offer on-point legal recommendations and advice to the CEO and other executives.
- Attend and oversee any meetings related to changes in policy, mergers & acquisitions, or any change in the organization’s direction.
- Monitor and ensure that the organizations are in compliance with various corporate, business, and labor laws.
- Manage any compliance-related issues, and become an authority on risk management.
- Handle any legal requests that come from other departments, delegating tasks to the legal team.
- Provide status reports on all organizational cases.
- Create and manage leasing agreements to resolve unwanted issues.
- Continually research new laws and regulations and develop contingencies to counter any issues that may arise.
- Communicate with other departments, law firms, outside counsel, or other legal services if necessary.
The exact duties, tasks, and responsibilities of a general counsel may vary according to the employer; you can expect the duties listed above to be the bare minimum any organization would expect from a general counsel.
What is the General Counsel Salary in the United States?
The general counsel job is a full-time job as it’s a top position in any given legal department. Usually, general counsel makes the industry standard; however, some industries, organizations, and agencies offer better salaries due to increased workload. You can find several job postings with varying salaries that look for candidates that have unique law experience.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes all lawyers under one category. That includes everyone from attorneys to general counsels. According to BLS, the average base salary for lawyers in the United States is $122,960. On average, lawyers in the federal government earn more than the ones offering legal services or who work in the local or state government.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that general counsel working in federal positions tend to earn more than the general counsels working in organizations.
However, it’s best to look at a few other sources to understand how much a general counsel makes, according to individual salary reports.
Glassdoor is one of the most well-known websites to find out salary estimates and employer reviews. Employees can upload their annual salary reports, employer reviews, cost of living estimates, and total compensation values.
According to Glassdoor, the national average base salary for general counsel is $153,430. The average salary range is between $100,000 and $255,000.
You can check out the salary estimates according to different filters. The filters you can put in include:
- The industry you’re working in.
- The size of the company according to the number of employees.
- Total years of experience in the field.
You can mix up the filters and adjust it according to yourself to get a more precise salary estimate.
All the compensation data on Glassdoor is calculated using the reports received from various employees working in different parts of the United States, in different companies, industries, and with different levels of experience.
It’s best to put in as many filters as you can to get the closest and most accurate figure.
Indeed is one of the most extensive job-search engines on the internet. However, it also doubles as a source of getting salary estimates and job descriptions.
According to Indeed, the average salary for a general counsel in the United States is $141,234. Furthermore, the website also lists down some of the common benefits general counsels get.
Some of the benefits include stock options, commuter assistance, loan forgiveness, gym memberships, and unlimited paid time off.
Indeed also mentions the highest-paying cities for general counsels. On the top, there is New York, New York, with an average salary of $219,403. New York is followed by Washington, DC, Denver, Atlanta, Alexandria, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
PayScale is considered to be one of the most trusted websites for getting pay estimates, career advice, and compensation information. The site also offers estimates on the average cost of living, gender-based pay estimates, and other information.
According to PayScale, the average median salary for general counsel is $164,370. That brings the average hourly rate to $60.00.
Furthermore, general counsels can also earn up to $25,281 in bonuses, $37,500 in commission, and up to $14,666 through profit-sharing.
The total pay range for general counsel averages between $91,000 and $253,000.
PayScale also shows the highest-paid jobs for general counsels. According to the site, general counsel jobs in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, and Dallas pay the most.
What’s the Roadmap to Becoming a General Counsel?
Becoming a general counsel is one of the highest positions in the legal profession. Reaching that point requires years of experience practicing law, learning about various rules and regulations, and more.
In any case, becoming a general counsel usually goes about with the following roadmap.
- Get a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Continue your education by enrolling in a law school and complete it. Pass the State Bar Exam to officially get your attorney license.
- To continue your professional development, follow the mandatory Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program.
- Spend time practicing law, or get a related job where you can showcase your legal skills.
- After you’ve had 5-10 years of experience, you can start to apply for associate general counsel positions.
- After you’ve had adequate experience working under a general counsel or chief legal officer, you can apply to become a general counsel.
Furthermore, it’s best to develop your soft skills throughout this time. General counsels need to have excellent written and verbal communication skills, along with problem-solving, networking, leadership, interpersonal, research, and analytical skills.
Depending on your industry, organization, or governmental agency, you may find varying general counsel salaries. Some companies give more tasks and duties to general counsel, while others keep them for legal recommendations and advice only.
In any case, the industry, organization, years of experience, and overall level of duty play a role in determining your salary.
Becoming a general counsel is a long road that requires years of hard work and dedication. However, once you reach that level, you receive one of the highest average salaries in the United States, along with an excellent compensation package.