Most medium to large organisations have a legal department. The general counsel is the organisation’s chief legal officer. In the legal community, lawyers who work directly for corporations (rather than for law firms) are referred to as “in-house counsel.” Typically, larger organisations will employ additional attorneys to the legal department to support and work under the general counsel. These attorneys are usually referred to as associate general counsel or assistant general counsel.
An associate general counsel usually assists the general counsel in conducting legal research and providing legal advice to the relevant decision-makers in the organisation. The advice may involve any number of legal issues important to the company, including, among other things, advice on employment issues, administrative policy, litigation strategy and regulatory compliance issues.
The position of associate general counsel must be filled with an attorney. To become an attorney, it takes seven years of full-time education beyond high school and the admission to a state bar. A student must first obtain a four-year undergraduate degree and take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). If the student is accepted to a law school, it requires three years full-time (or four years part-time) to graduate. For attorneys seeking employment as an associate general counsel, it is helpful to have some background in business or other experience or knowledge related to the corporation.
Once the student graduates law school, she is still not an attorney. She merely has a law degree. To become an attorney, she must take and pass a bar examination and be deemed morally fit to be an attorney. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own specific bar requirements. Many states also require that the applicant take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and obtain an acceptable score. The MPRE is an ethics examination. If an applicant passes the bar examination, obtains an acceptable score on the MPRE (if the state requires it) and is deemed morally fit to practice law, then the state bar association will admit the applicant to the state bar. Once admitted to the bar, the applicant has a license to practice law in that state and is an attorney.
Associate general counsel positions are not usually entry-level positions. Most organisations require at least a few years experience practicing law for associate general counsel applicants. Associates at law firms often move to “in-house” positions as the pay is typically competitive and the hours are less demanding.
Associate general counsel positions usually offer competitive salaries with generous benefits. Salary.com lists the median salary for an associate general counsel as £127,624. Positions in the private sector pay higher than public sector positions. Large not-for-profit organisations, such as large universities, usually have a general counsel staffed with one or more associate general counsel positions, and the pay is typically less than their private sector counterparts.
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