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Inside a Corporate Legal Department

Posted on December 14, 2018 by Law Dawgs | Candidate Services
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Many legal professionals are familiar with the idea of a law firm (including a firm’s structure and operations). In contrast, many professionals are slightly perplexed when it comes to corporate legal departments. While many of these departments will differ (largely in size and complexity), there are still several commonalities among them. This means we can provide a few universal truths on corporate legal departments to help clear up any ambiguities that these entities cause.

What is the Anatomy of a Company’s Legal Department?

The head honcho in a corporate legal department is the general counsel. This attorney is also referred to as the “chief counsel,” or the “chief legal officer (CLO).”  The chief counsel reports directly to the company’s chief executive officer (CEO). The chief counsel may also have to report to or advise a business’s board of directors.

If a company is small in size, its legal department may begin and end with the CLO. At most, a small business might also employ an assistant for the general counsel. As a company grows, though, it will face an increasing number of legal issues. This means the one general counsel will need a support staff.

The attorneys in this staff include assistant general counsels, which report to the general counsel. These attorneys will likely have legal assistants assigned to them to provide help. Medium sized companies may employ a few of both attorneys and assistants, while very large companies may employ several hundred of each (if not more). Paralegals and legal support personnel may always be included within this mix of lawyers and assistants. The latter is especially the case in large businesses.

What is the function of a corporate legal department?

The main duty of a business’s legal team is to identify and resolve all of the legal issues in every single department of the business. These departments may include:

  • Engineering,
  • Design,
  • Human resources,
  • Marketing,
  • Sales,
  • Finance, and
  • Distribution.

All legal matters that are handled by the department eventually get communicated back to the CEO, board of directors, and members of the business’s corporate governance department.

When it comes to specific practice areas of a legal department, the general counsel and his/her team handle a broad range of legal issues. These may include such legal fields as:

  • Trademark and copyright,
  • Contract formation and interpretation,
  • Contract negotiation,
  • Criminal law,
  • Business law,
  • Environmental law,
  • Real estate, and
  • Tax. 

In some instances, a company’s legal department may work with lawyers in private practice. This may be the case if the department needs an expertise in a given area of the law. Or, sometimes it is necessitated by a department’s size. Small companies simply do not have the legal resources to handle significant and sizable legal issues of great complexity. 

Some legal departments may look like law firms in the end. However, there are many differences between the two. It is important for professionals, at the very least, to know and recognize these differences. This will help tailor job searches and insert focus into resumes and cover letters.

LAW DAWGS is always here to help our amazing candidates. If you ever need help in your job search, simply contact us. We’re here to help. Also, please visit our job portal to learn of the positions we are currently staffing for.


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