• Multifaceted General Counsel

Finding Value in the Multifaceted Role of General Counsel

by Noel Bagwell
for Executive Legal Professionals

June 23, 2015

General Counsel’s Dynamic Role

When you think of a company’s General Counsel, the image you may have in your mind may be more paper-pushing, rule-making nerd than versatile, relevant protector of your company’s most vital operations and assets; but by the end of this article, I hope that image will have evaporated like a mirage on the desert, replaced by a clearer understanding of why General Counsel attorneys are so necessary and valuable to your business’s long-term health and success.

“With heightened attention from shareholders, the public, and U.S. and foreign regulators and a continuous news cycle from around the world, companies face unprecedented scrutiny of all they do. Failure to comply with laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank as well as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—which makes it a crime for American companies and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign authorities—can lead to severe consequences, including fines and criminal penalties for board members and officers.”1

Don’t misunderstand; General Counsel attorneys do so much more than help big businesses navigate the murky waters of securities regulation and international law. Benjamin Heineman, the former head of General Electric’s legal department who is widely credited with transforming the role of General Counsel attorneys in major corporations, expertly summed up the recent shift in thinking about General Counsel.

Twenty-five years ago, if you asked an inside lawyer a question, they’d say, ‘Give me two days,’ and they’d call someone outside,” explains Heineman. But by hiring superstars from firms and major government positions, “All of a sudden, the businesspeople were saying, ‘Wow, these people can do a remarkable number of things.’ Corporate counsel were called to participate in strategic meetings and provide wide-ranging counsel as decisions were made, rather than to clean up messes after they occurred.1

Old ways won't open new doors.That’s the value General Counsel brings: being able to participate in strategic decision-making, counseling your business’s leadership as decisions are made, rather than just cleaning up the messes made by leaders who, while competent and intelligent in their areas of expertise, are ignorant of the intricacies of the laws and regulations with which their business must comply. No one can know everything or function effectively in every role. Having General Counsel on your team is essential to making the right decision the first time and avoiding expensive legal problems. Remember, as J. Sakiya Sandifer said, “True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” Let your General Counsel help you to be the best leader of your company you can be.

You Can’t Afford to Forego General Counsel

The major hurdle small businesses* face, when considering engaging a General Counsel attorney, is affordability. Of course, understanding compensation for any employment position requires a bit of context. Don’t sweat it; like good attorneys, we’ve done the research for you.

How much do General Counsel attorneys usually make? The most experienced in-house lawyers (those with 10+ years of experience) usually make between $126,250 and $251,500, according to the Robert Half 2015 Salary Guide. Those with four to nine years of experience are projected to have salaries between $109,750 and $212,250, while those with zero to three years of experience are more likely to earn somewhere between $81,500 and $156,500. And that’s just for General Counsel; corporate in-house legal departments are often structured like tiered law firms, and salaries for lawyers, other than the Chief Legal Officer (CLO) won’t be as well-compensated.2

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You might be thinking, “Must be nice! My company can’t afford to pay a lawyer that kind of salary,” or maybe you’re just looking for a lower-cost alternative. I can help you with that.

I recently sent a prospective client a proposal for our Signet™ Outside General Counsel legal service plan, and some other legal needs the company had. Based on the size of the client’s company, and other relevant considerations, the price I was able to quote for their Signet™ Outside General Counsel legal service plan was a mere $6,150.00 per year. That’s a year of legal service for less than their company would spend in one month to hire in-house counsel.

In case you’re thinking, “Yeah, but you get what you pay for,” which is usually true, let me disavow you of the notion this is some kind of stripped-down, no-frills package. With our Signet™ Outside General Counsel, among other things, your company gets:

  • Unlimited Remote Legal Consultation for the length of your service;
  • Your own Account Curator, a licensed attorney assigned to your account as your point of contact;
  • Litigation Management & Strategic Defense Planning;
  • Contract drafting and review services;
  • Policy, Procedure, and Program Development; and much more.

General Counsel services aren’t just for “the big boys,” “Wall Street” or the “One Percent.” They’re for everyone, because, whether or not they realize it, every business needs preventive legal services. Preventive legal services are not just about preventing lawsuits. They’re about leading your company to make its best available decisions with legal and ethical considerations in mind–something only General Counsel can help you do efficiently and effectively. And now, with Signet™ Outside General Counsel legal service plans from Executive Legal Professionals, the service you need is available at a price you can afford.


* Whether a business is a “small business” depends on either revenue, number of employees, or both, depending on the industry in which the business operates. You can see the Small Business Size Standards by NAICS Industry on this chart. (This link may break if the federal government updates their website and the link’s URL changes. The standards are codified at 13 C.F.R. 121.)


1 McArdle, E. (2012, July 1). In the Driver’s Seat: The changing role of the general counsel – Harvard Law Today. Retrieved June 23, 2015, from http://today.law.harvard.edu/feature/in-the-drivers-seat-the-changing-role-of-the-general-counsel/
2 Allen, M. (2015, April 24). 3 Insights About In-House Counsel Compensation. Retrieved June 23, 2015, from http://abovethelaw.com/2015/04/3-insights-about-in-house-counsel-compensation/

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