Career Path Job Descriptions

What Does an Outside General Counsel Do?

Some companies prefer hiring a general counsel, while others outsource the job. Some companies have both in-house counsel and outside counsel. In any case, many companies tend to hire outside general counsel for their legal services. 

Outside general counsel services can differ in each industry and organization. However, their basic duties and tasks are similar to what a typical general counsel’s job description looks like. 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look into the roles, duties, and abilities of an outside general counsel. 

What Does an Outside General Counsel Do – Typical Roles in Organizations

Enterprise-level businesses are not the only ones that face legal issues. Medium and small businesses have their share of litigation and legal needs too. 

However, larger businesses usually have in-house counsel and entire legal departments for their legal needs. On the other hand, small businesses usually have to deal with legal matters by themselves, taking precious time away that could be used to scale their business. 

Even with the help of attorneys, many businesses often spend way too much time on legal matters. The primary reason for that is that each attorney specializes in a different form of litigation. For example, the business would have to hire different attorneys for tax issues, employment matters, and more. At that point, lots of legal issues at the same time can lead to a massive waste of time. 

In such cases, a general counsel arrangement works best for the company. In such an arrangement, the house attorney would be taking care of all the typical legal tasks, including providing legal advice, reviewing contracts, ensuring corporate compliance, and more. 

The general counsel would also manage other legal matters, delegate tasks to other attorneys, and liaison between other attorneys and the employer. As a result, the business owner and company save time and resources. 

In this case, the company would be hiring an outside general counsel rather than a corporate counsel or an in-house counsel. Full-time in-house counsel can be very expensive and impractical for smaller companies. Therefore, most companies hire an outside general counsel on hourly rates, on retainer, commercial contracts, a flat fee, or other fee structures. 

For small businesses and startups, it’s essential to manage your business needs and fiduciary duties effectively, and legal counsel helps you manage these needs and duties. 

What Does an Outside General Counsel Do – Duties and Tasks

Every outside general counsel can have varying duties, tasks, and responsibilities, depending on how many services the client requires. An outside general counsel can be independent contractors or law firms, depending on the client’s budget. 

In any case, the following duties, tasks, and responsibilities are what the typical outside general counsel can and should offer to all clients. 

  • Work with the CEO, in-house general counsel, and the legal department on various issues. 
  • Offer legal advice and recommendations to the client. 
  • Provide risk management services, if required. For example, if the company wants to make a decision in real estate matters, offer risk evaluations accordingly. 
  • Offer assistance with internal matters, such as shareholder resolutions, board meetings, and arbitration. 
  • Identify, manage, and monitor any potential legal issues and offer guidance to the executives and employees on how to comply with the law. 
  • Represent the company in all legal matters during litigation and major business transactions. 
  • Provide various legal services, such as contract drafting, contract review, employment law disclosures, corporate governance procedures, and more. 
  • Help with administrative work, including electronic document reviews, claims review, legal transcription review, and collection services. 
  • Develop disclaimers for the company, if required. 
  • Educate executives and employees on things like intellectual property rights. 
  • Help set up the company if it’s a startup. For example, help business owners understand the importance of having an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership). 
  • Determine the legal standards by searching various case law in legal repositories. 
  • Assist the company in developing employee handbooks that explain legal matters. 
  • Work with various business lawyers to draft compliance plans

The duties, tasks, and responsibilities listed above are what each outside general counsel should be able to offer in their services. 

What Does an Outside General Counsel Do – Skills and Abilities

The outside general counsel needs to have the same skills, qualifications, and abilities as in-house general counsel. However, they may need to upsell themselves more as they’re hired contractually. 

On average, the outside general counsel is expected to have the following qualifications, abilities, and skills. 

  • A bachelor’s degree in law or any related legal field. A bachelor’s degree in any other field is acceptable, as long as the person gets a law degree from an accredited law school. 
  • A Juris Doctor degree is preferred, but not necessary. 
  • At least seven to ten years of legal experience is required. Most companies also prefer prior experience as an in-house or outside general counsel. 
  • It’s also advisable to have specialty certifications in business litigation, tax law, international law, and workers’ compensation. Several practice areas widen the outside general counsel’s horizon. 
  • The outside general counsel needs to have a firm grasp on regulatory compliance, corporate governance, and various employment laws. 
  • The person should have the ability to maintain customer privacy and also keep trade secrets if required. 
  • It’s also advisable to have a strong grasp on federal consumer protection and privacy laws related to advertising. 
  • Should be able to assist companies in creating intellectual property rights and help them secure, maintain, and protect them. 
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are needed to maintain a healthy client relationship. 
  • Research and analytical skills are required to find relevant laws and regulations and to analyze potential legal issues and find solutions for them. 
  • Critical problem-solving skills are needed to monitor, evaluate, and manage any legal matters effectively and efficiently. 

The qualifications, abilities, and skills listed above should be present in all outside general counsels, even if the client doesn’t require it. 

How to Become an Outside General Counsel 

According to Glassdoor, the average general counsel salaries in the United States can be rounded up to $153,430. That number includes the sum total of what outside general counsels make through contractual work. However, because of the disparity, the typical salary range is between $100,000 and $255,000. 

The outside general counsel salary tends to vary depending on how much work they get and what kind of company hires them. For example, if a venture capital-backed startup hires an outside general counsel, they will end up paying them above average. However, small businesses would usually pay the average or below average at times. In any case, each outside general counsel has varying rates for different companies. 

Furthermore, it also depends on whether you’re an individual contractor or working through a law firm. Outside general counsels that work out of a law firm tend to have more rugged experience under their belt compared to individual contractors. However, they also cost more. 

In any case, to get to the outside general counsel level, the person has to go through various positions, such as a corporate attorney, associate counsel, and more. 

It’s best to work as an in-house general counsel before opting to work as an outside general counsel. It helps understand what each company requires. 

It’s also advisable to keep brushing up on the latest laws, rules, and regulations. Another thing is to keep a good relationship with the State Bar Association, regulatory bodies, and, most importantly, your clients. 

For the most part, you should practice good law with years of experience to become an outside general counsel. 

Becoming a Great Outside General Counsel

At the start, you may resort to attorney advertising to sell your services, especially if you’re an independent contractor. Therefore, it’s best to get as much experience as you can as an outside attorney. After you’ve had considerable experience working with various organizations, corporate attorneys, and general counsels, you can opt to become an outside general counsel. 

Becoming a great outside general counsel primarily depends on how much experience you’ve had. If you’ve had prior experience as an in-house general counsel, that’s even better. 

The general counsel role is extremely valuable for any company. Therefore, it’s best to keep up with all legal matters, laws, and regulations to provide the best services as an outside general counsel. 

It’s also advisable to work closely with the in-house counsel and legal department (if there is one) to formulate the best possible recommendation. 

Most importantly, it’s crucial for the outside general counsel to work according to the company’s standards first.

By Josh Fechter

Josh Fechter is a partner at Corporate Compliance HQ and has founded several companies in software and training.