General Counsel vs. Chief Legal Officer | Legal Recruiters | Cowen Partners

      General Counsel vs. Chief Legal Officer (GC vs. CLO)

      The Chief Legal Officer (CLO) and General Counsel (GC) are both lawyers and leaders in an organization — depending on your company’s size, you may have individuals hired into these roles already, or you may be seeking to create these positions within your business. 

      The differences between these two roles stem from their different functions within the organization.

      What Are the Responsibilities of a CLO?

      The role of the CLO is to help the CEO and board of directors build a strategy and a culture that will drive long-term success. The CLO is responsible for developing and maintaining a strategic plan, which includes understanding how to implement it and then making sure that it happens.

      The duties of a CLO vary depending on the size and complexity of the organization. In general, though, they will have a number of responsibilities, including:

      • Overseeing all legal matters within an organization
      • Ensuring that company policies comply with laws and regulations
      • Managing any litigation within their company or against it
      • Setting strategy for future legal needs

      The CLO is usually responsible for managing the legal affairs of a company or government agency. This work includes developing policies, negotiating contracts, and resolving disputes. 

      In some cases, the CLO may also provide advice to executives on compliance issues or other legal matters. The CLO may have direct reports but typically will report to another C-level executive such as the CEO or COO.

      The CLO must have a solid understanding of the law and its impact on business decisions. They must understand how to translate the company’s goals into actionable legal strategies. This understanding requires extensive experience in both legal matters and business issues.

      What Are the Responsibilities of a GC?

      General counsel responsibilities include ensuring compliance with all relevant laws, rules, regulations, and codes of conduct. They must monitor any potential risks to the company’s reputation or finances and help mitigate those risks by implementing appropriate controls.

      The role of general counsel involves being responsible for representing the company’s legal interests in all matters, including:

      • Litigation
      • Regulatory issues
      • Employment disputes

      General counsel may also advise senior leadership on legal matters such as compliance with regulations or potential mergers and acquisitions. 

      A GC is often considered one of the most important members of executive leadership teams because of their critical role in protecting against risk and ensuring that companies can operate smoothly even during times of uncertainty or crisis.

      Every GC offers: 

      • Guidance and advice
      • Protection against liability issues
      • Help with insurance requirements
      • A reduction in the risk of regulatory penalties

      The GC also assists in drafting contracts and reviewing business transaction documents. In addition, they may be responsible for preparing reports related to lawsuits or other legal matters.

      What Is the Difference Between a GC & a CLO?

      The terms “general counsel” and “chief legal officer” are often used interchangeably. However, there are some important differences between these positions, including their specific areas of focus. These differences, described in more depth below, should be considered when hiring an attorney for your company:

      • General counsel is responsible for overseeing all aspects of legal matters for an organization, including strategic planning, contract review and negotiation, regulatory compliance, litigation support, and more. Consequently, general counsel might help negotiate a merger agreement.
      • A chief legal officer may handle some of the duties of general counsel but will typically focus more narrowly on high-level business issues, such as mergers and acquisitions, employee contracts (to ensure they comply with equal opportunity hiring practices), and intellectual property protections. The CLO, as an executive position, may also be required to oversee other departments within the organization, such as human resources, public relations, and marketing. 

      In addition to advising executives on legal matters, they may also have regulatory oversight over various issues such as compliance with government regulations or ethical standards within an industry sector.

      Why Does My Company Need a GC?

      The role of the GC is to provide legal advice and counsel that helps the company achieve its business objectives. That may sound simple, but it’s actually quite complex.

      First, think about all of the issues that are unique to your company, like (but not limited to):

      • Mergers and acquisitions
      • Intellectual property protection and licensing
      • Employment law compliance
      • Litigation avoidance strategies,
      • Regulatory compliance

      These issues are constantly evolving and can be extremely complex. 

      Without timely guidance from an experienced GC who knows how these issues affect your industry, mistakes can be made that cost your company money or even threaten its existence. The good news is that you don’t need to know everything about every issue — you just need an experienced professional who can help you navigate through it all.

      Why Does My Company Need a CLO?

      A CLO is the highest-ranking legal executive in an organization, reporting directly to the CEO or COO. 

      Each CLO is responsible for overseeing all aspects of legal affairs, including:

      • Compliance and risk management
      • Corporate governance
      • Legal operations
      • Internal investigations
      • A company’s external counsel relationships

      The role of CLO has gained significant attention over the past few years as companies have increasingly viewed it as a critical component of effective corporate governance.  

      A CLO should be involved in key business decisions, such as mergers and acquisitions, as well as strategic planning. The CLO also serves as a bridge between the company’s leadership team and its outside counsel.

      Understanding the Differences Between a GC and a CLO

      The CLO is a relatively new executive role that’s being created by many companies as they address the challenges of growth, complexity, and globalization. A CLO leads all aspects of legal affairs, including risk management, compliance, and dispute resolution. 

      In contrast, GCs are responsible for managing the legal functions of their organizations and ensuring compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

      Understanding the unique responsibilities for each role can help you hire the right individual for the job, leading your organization in the right direction concerning your legal affairs. 

      Legal Executive Recruitment | Cowen Partners

      National Legal Executive Search Firm | Legal Recruiters | Cowen Partners
      National Legal Executive Search Firm | Legal Recruiters

      At Cowen Partners, our elite team of hands-on legal recruiters have deep experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients, who are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion, span all industries, including technologyhealthcaremanufacturingretailreal estatefinancial serviceprivate equity, and more.

      Successful placements include chief legal officers and general counsel across the nation, as well as positions across the C-Suite — CEOsChief Operating Officers, CHRO, Chief Financial Officers, CMO, vice presidents sales and marketing, and other director-level leadership roles.

      Delivering 3X more qualified candidates than the competition, Cowen Partners has a proven retained executive search process that is exceptionally efficient at delivering the top 1% of candidates for positions across the C-suite — and for success with any company initiative, from growth and expansion to diversity and inclusion and beyond.

      Discover more of our industry-leading executive search resources to see why Cowen Partners is a top legal executive search firm in St. Louis, Milwaukee, AnchorageNew York CityChicagoSeattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

      Cowen Partners Executive search provides legal recruitment services to all major and minor industries including (but not limited to):

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