Government agencies and private corporations alike require legal oversight to stay on the right side of the law. That’s why every large organization needs a general counsel. And in their absence, a deputy general counsel takes the reigns.
A deputy general counsel has pretty much the same responsibilities as a general counsel – the only way they differ is in terms of the authority they have over their department and decisions.
In this article, we’ll break down the job description of a typical deputy in-house counsel, talk compensation, and lay down a career roadmap for young attorneys.
Let’s get started.
Who is a Deputy General Counsel?
A deputy general counsel is a senior attorney who offers their legal services to a company as a full-time, part-time, or contractual employee. In an internal legal department, they are second only to the main general counsel /chief legal officer, and act as their backup.
A deputy general counsel works with the general counsel and the rest of the legal team to ensure that their organization complies with the law, guide corporate governance, provide legal representation when needed, and anything else that falls in their domain.
Deputy general counsel reports directly to the chief general counsel (or the CEO, when the GC is unavailable), and is responsible for supervising the assistant general counsel, associate general counsel, and the rest of the legal team. In that sense, you can think of them as the vice presidents of their department.
Why is a Deputy General Counsel Needed?
Not every organization has a deputy general counsel.
This begs the question – why does this job title exist anyway?
Here are two broad reasons why an organization might need a deputy general counsel for their office of general counsel:
- Assisting the CLO – in an organization where the chief legal counsel has their fingers in many pies, the deputy general counsel assumes some of the responsibilities to make things easier for the general counsel. In other words, they act as the right hands of the general counsels.
- Offering Additional Legal Expertise – in certain organizations where advice on legal issues is always needed (such as the US Department of Justice), having an extra senior-level attorney in the management team can be really helpful.
At the end of the day, titles vary. Some companies have senior associate general counsels instead of a deputy GC, whereas others have both, in which case, the latter has more authority.
Typical Duties and Responsibilities of a Deputy General Counsel
The exact duties of a deputy general counsel are not the same across all companies.
However, there are certain areas that are considered universal to some extent within the United States.
This is what most deputy GCs do:
Provide Legal Advice to Their Employer
The most basic responsibility shared by in-house attorneys of all levels in any organization is to provide expert advice on various legal matters to the senior management.
The deputy general counsel, as the second most-senior attorney, is consulted by the management to ensure that the organization complies with the law.
These could include different state, federal, and international laws addressing areas such as equal opportunity, employee/customer privacy, copyright infringement, etc.
Furthermore, the deputy general counsel also oversees the legal research process. This entails supervising paralegals/clerks (if available) to make sure that they stay on top of any developments taking place in statutes and regulations.
Developing and Implementing Policies
Providing legal consultancy is the easy part – especially for a deputy general counsel who has spent close to a decade (or even more) doing legal work.
The challenging bit is to establish, implement, and track a framework that will ensure compliance with the law.
This mainly includes working with the chief GC, board of directors, and the human resources creating and imposing internal policies that promote compliant behavior throughout the organization.
Of course, not every deputy general counsel may be required to create policies from scratch whenever they join a new company, given that there are policies already in place. However, they still need to carefully assess the existing legal landscape and tweak existing policies if needed.
Handle Litigation for the Company
Another major responsibility of the deputy general counsel is to oversee and manage litigation for the organization.
As the company’s senior attorney, it is their duty to protect the interests of their organization, such as their intellectual property, right to manufacture something, etc. This involves providing legal representation to the company both when prosecuting and defending.
The company may also seek the legal services of an outside counsel, but usually, the deputy general counsel, together with the in-house general counsel, handle lawsuits.
Not every company will handle lawsuits every day. But whenever they do, the deputy general counsel supervises everything and reports to the general counsel.
Oversee Business Transactions
From time to time, large businesses and government departments sign deals with huge implications for their future.
These include deals like the acquisition of new real-estate, business mergers between two companies, right to manufacture and/or sell a product, etc.
Since such deals are so important, the deputy general counsel oversees them to ensure everything is alright.
This entails negotiating better terms on the behalf of their employer, drafting the contract, and advising the management, among other things.
Corporate law can be tricky.
One small misstep, and the organization can lose a fortune, and more importantly, all of its respect overnight.
To that end, the deputy general counsel consistently assesses the different risk areas – activities where there’s a risk of non-compliance – and comes up with plans to address said risk areas. All of this falls under the umbrella of risk management – an important part of corporate legal practice.
Of course, the deputy GC doesn’t do this alone. They have the assistance of the entire legal team at their disposal.
Lead the Legal Team in Absence of the General Counsel
Last but not least, the deputy general counsel is responsible for leading the in-house legal team, especially in the absence of the general counsel.
They have the authority to make large-scale decisions, such as budgeting, recruitment, strategy, etc.
Additionally, they’re also responsible for liaising with the outside counsel to ensure everything is in order.
How Much Do Deputy General Counsels Earn?
Since deputy general counsels have a huge level of responsibility on their shoulders, they are well-compensated all over the US.
Let’s look at the average general counsel salary figures collected from the following trustworthy resources:
- Glassdoor – on average, deputy general counsels earn $210,859 per year. This figure is only based on 55 reports.
- Salary.com – according to this platform, deputy general counsels, on average, earn $291,290 per year.
- PayScale – as per reports on PayScale, the average deputy general counsel salary is $187,597. The platform also suggests that the highest paying cities are New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Salaries tend to vary greatly, especially from city to city. This is due to the difference in the cost of living.
If you’re a recruiter, make sure to factor in everything before creating a compensation package. In case you’re a candidate going for interview, conduct thorough research before giving your potential employer a number.
How to Become a Deputy General Counsel?
All things considered, the deputy general counsel is one of the most senior level positions in any organization.
But how do you go about becoming one?
Here’s everything you need to know:
- Get the Right Education – since all deputy general counsels are attorneys, the candidate must have a Juris Doctor (JD) degree from an accredited law school and must have passed the state bar exam.
- Build Up Ample Experience – employers typically require the candidates to have between 5 to 10 years of experience in a law firm, government position, or any other similar position of legal practice.
- Apply for Open Positions – finally, start applying for open deputy general counsel jobs over the internet.
Of course, all of the above sounds a lot easier than it really is. You can’t expect to become a senior counsel overnight. But by staying consistent, having a clear goal, and keeping your eyes on the prize, you’ll get there eventually.
The deputy general counsel is, more or less, accountable for the performance of the legal team – especially when the general counsel isn’t available.
Hopefully, by now, you have a good understanding of what their job entails, why some organizations prefer to hire them, and what makes them so important.