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What are the must have attributes that a CEO wants in his/her General Counsel?

lawtrades general counsel attributes

CEOs generally place a great deal of importance on the advice and guidance of the company general counsel. It is important that these two individuals have a strong working relationship. As such, the CEO will desire specific characteristics or attributes of the general counsel. These characteristics should be the driving factors when recruiting and you hire an attorney to fill the position. Below we review some of those primary attributes individually.

Professional Competence

First and foremost, a general counsel must be a competent legal counselor and practitioner. Generally, a general counsel will provide three key services to the company — advisor, professional client, and service provider. She will advise the CEO and other company employees on legal matters affecting the business. As such, she must have strong research and communication skills. She will be explaining complex legal scenarios to individuals with limited or no legal training. Additionally, she will identify and hire outside legal professionals when necessary. In doing so, she will respond to inquiries, provide support, and keep the executives apprised of the state of legal affairs being handled by the outside attorneys. This is particularly true when the company is involved in major transactions or the subject of major litigation. She will also perform many legal services for the company, such as corporate governance compliance and contract review and drafting.

It may be difficult for a non-legal professional to identify when a general counsel is truly competent in her responsibilities. As such, it may be necessary to seek the opinions of disinterested third parties when reviewing a potential general counsel’s experience, education, and expertise. Due diligence is important when you hire a lawyer.


The general counsel must provide objective, unbiased, candid legal advice. The general counsel must understand corporate governance. Attorneys often demonstrate a fundamental difference from other business professionals. The attorney is trained to spot potential problems and to devise methods of avoiding these problems. In a company this is a very important function. Business professionals, on the other hand, such as CEOs, are typically focused on business performance and growth. Compliance with laws and procedures often gets in the way of these objectives. The general counsel is charged with making the CEO aware when a particular course of action could run afoul of the law. While the general counsel will certain work diligent to find ways to legally pursue the course of action chosen by the CEO, she must remain objective when informing the CEO of the potential legal pitfalls.


The general counsel often finds herself in the position of bearer of bad news. This can cause the counsel to fall into disfavor with the business professionals. They begin to see the counsel herself as a roadblock to progress. As described above, the general counsel should have a close professional relationship with the CEO. As such, it is important that general counsel has a personality that meshes well with the CEO’s personality. This is made particularly difficult when the general counsel is charged with constantly being the bearer of bad news. Nonetheless, individuals with complementary personalities will be more effective in this work environment. It’s not necessary that the general counsel and attorney be friends. In fact, this can distort the objectivity of the legal advice. It is important, however, that these professionals share a common outlook or orientation towards dealing with or overcoming legal hurdles.


Legal work is not the glamorous career that it appears to be on television. It requires painstaking efforts to meet the demands of clients. This reality is no different for the general counsel. She must work diligently to stay abreast of all potential legal issues in the company. She must provide candid advice to the executive team. And, she must provide competent legal services when needed. As such, it is important to make certain that the general counsel is appropriately motivated in the position. Not surprisingly, salary is only one point of motivation for employees. To many employers think that raising a salary is the only method of ensuring adequate performance. Instead, the CEO should seek to understand what are the motivations and aspirations of the general counsel. Sometimes, things like autonomy, inclusion, open recognition, etc., are highly valued but absent for a counsel. Seeking methods of providing these needs can keep the general counsel motivated to perform at her best.

LawTrades as a General Counsel

The role of general counsel is demanding and difficult to fill with the right persona. Due diligence is critical when you hire a attorney. Let the experts at LawTrades help you to identify the perfect general counsel.


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