There are generally two requirements that must be met before an individual becomes a licensed attorney and may legally practice law. First, that individual must obtain a law degree, also known as a juris doctorate, from an accredited law school. It is worth noting that not all states require lawyers to have graduated law school or for a degree to have come from an accredited institution, but these exceptions are rate. Second, the individual must pass the professional legal test known as “the bar exam” in the state where he or she desires to practice law as a general counsel. Once the bar exam is passed, a person becomes a licensed attorney
These two requirements are time-intensive and require a significant amount of hard work. But beyond these initial hurdles, few obstacles stand in the way of an individual who wishes to begin practicing law. Once licensed, attorneys must complete a certain number of hours of continuing legal education every few years and pay licensing and renewal fees. Beyond these ongoing requirements for licensure compliance, licensed attorneys may generally continue practicing law indefinitely.
Certainly, not every attorney chooses to utilize his or her license in the same way when practicing law. Some choose to specialize in a particular area of law. Some become immigration attorneys or handle family law cases. Other licensed attorneys may focus on criminal defense matters, become prosecutors or advocate on behalf of injured workers. Many choose not to practice law at all but instead opt to teach, write or advise lawmakers about the law.
Many attorneys interested in corporate law, intellectual property, compliance, finance and/or employment choose to become general counsels. Although other attorneys specialize in one of these areas of law, general counsels tend to handle all aspects of a company’s legal needs as an in-house lawyer. A business’s general counsel therefore tends to serve as a chief attorney or in-house attorney within a company or department. In a relatively small business, general counsels tend to do a significant amount of the company’s legal work. In a larger company, this individual oversees the legal work of others employed in divisions like human resources, sales, marketing, compliance, production, credit, finance, development and distribution. Individuals who seek this position at larger companies understandably tend to have more experience and expect to be paid accordingly given the scope of their job-related duties.
At times, the hire of a general counsel comes from within a company’s existing legal in-house attorneys. Internal hires are common in larger companies. But at smaller companies, the hire of a general counsel may be external. There is no set formula for the kind of attorney that will make a good general counsel. Although it is generally advisable for a general counsel to have experience working in the corporate legal sector, this kind of experience is not required to practice law. Indeed, some startups who value young talent hire recent law school graduates and support the idea that they can “learn on the job” while contributing to the broader culture of the company.
Help from a General Counsel Is Available
If you or your business is in need of the services provided by a general counsel, please do not hesitate to contact LawTrades. Members of our general counsel team have a minimum of eight years of experience and are passionate about what they do. Our general counsel services cost a fraction of what they would if a business hired an in-house attorney but we deliver partner-level attention. If your in-house legal team is overburdened, you need temporary outside assistance or simply want to ask questions of a general counsel, please contact LawTrades today.