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How to Become a Corporate Counsel

Do you have an in-depth knowledge of business law? Are you an experienced attorney who has managed a company’s legal affairs? If so, you may be an ideal candidate for a corporate counsel position. Corporate counsel attorneys can work both in and out of the courtroom, but you will likely spend the majority of their time advising companies on legal matters. You may work for an individual company or many companies, providing legal protection and advice.

You should be familiar with drafting and negotiating employee contracts, filling out government reports, drafting and reviewing legal documents, and providing legal representation if needed. If you’re a lawyer and have strong communication skills with excellent written skills, you would be a great fit for serving as corporate counsel.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is searching for an experienced corporate counsel. We are in need of an exceptionally responsible candidate with great communication, analytical, and negotiation skills. A corporate counsel develops the organization’s policies on issues related to the industry, corporate governance, and regulatory matters. If you have experience as an attorney or in managing a company’s legal affairs, you may be an ideal candidate for a position as a member of our staff. 

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Negotiate employee contracts
  • Prepare and file government reports
  • Draft legal documents
  • Review new business relationships with vendors and subcontractors
  • Guide managers on regulatory and compliance matters
  • Administer training workshops
  • Formulate employee handbooks
  • Analyze legal issues relating to proposed products
  • Represent the corporation before administrative boards and court trials
  • Provide supervision to outside lawyers hired to assist the corporation with their specialized legal services
  • Structure joint enterprises with other organizations

Education and experience

This position requires a Juris Doctorate as well as a license to practice law in the state where the candidate will work. A background in business and the industry in which the company does business are preferred.

Required skills and qualifications

  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Knowledge of federal and state business laws and regulations
  • Administrative skills
  • Research skills
  • Analytical thinking
  • Negotiation skills
  • Managerial skills

Preferred qualifications

  • Knowledge of applicable legal and regulatory requirements relating to contracts, licensing, software as a service, marketing, technology, privacy and security
  • Experience in analysis, review, and drafting of complex vendor contracts required
  • Works well with internal “clients” and other stakeholders

Typical work environment

Most corporate counsels work at desks in an office setting throughout the week with regular hours (from 9-5), however many work more than 40 hours in any given week. Because data security is a big risk these days, the current trend is to move towards in-house data storage, which is more secure. 

Typical hours

The typical work hours in an office setting for a Corporate Counsel are usually from 9 AM to 5 PM. However, many attorneys work more than 40 hours a week, especially when preparing for trials or nearing deadlines.

Available certifications

All corporate counsel attorneys will need to have a J.D. from an accredited university. However, it’s also smart to receive some certifications on top of this degree. Check out the following: 

  • ICC (In-House Counsel Certified) Designation. On the site for the Accreditation of Corporate Counsel, those interested can read about the ICC Designation, which is valid for a year after an individual passes the final assessment from the ACC Credentialing Institute. Participants must meet eligibility criteria, attend 25 hours of training, and then complete the final assessment in order to receive the ICC Designation. 
  • Harvard’s Leadership in Corporate Counsel. This program is great for those who are currently active in their in-house legal department. The program assists its leading lawyers in developing their in-house roles through a highly-involved case-study method that assists with understanding the changes taking place in the global marketplace for legal services.

Career path

A corporate counsel is required to have a Juris Doctorate degree from an accredited law school and a license to practice law in the state where they work. A bachelor’s degree is necessary to pursue a J.D. degree. College coursework in corporate law, contracts, business administration, taxation, mergers and acquisitions, antitrust law, and corporate finance is also recommended for students who know they want to become a corporate counsel. Internships with corporate law firms while in school are also encouraged.

Many companies prefer to hire seasoned attorneys as corporate counsel, so most attorneys start out in law firms as associates. The next step is to progress along either a partner or non-partner track, leading to positions as partners or senior attorneys. After a few years with a firm, some attorneys transition from private practice to being a corporate counsel.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 23-1011

2020 Employment804,200
Projected Employment in 2030875,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 9% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift71,500 increase

According to the industry website In-House Tech, data security is an issue many in-house attorneys say exposes their clients to the biggest risk. The trend toward moving in-house data storage to more secure, cloud-based storage options is expected to continue.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) is also becoming increasingly common in the legal field. Legal teams are using AI to automate things like document creation and internal workflows. It is also being used in legal research to determine how relevant a particular precedent or piece of data is to a case.