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What does a Chief Legal Officer do?

By Ken Black
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A chief legal officer is responsible for overseeing all the legal aspects of a business. In most cases, this person advises the company on any changes in the law, and also sets up educational opportunities for employee training on legal matters, when applicable. The officer may also investigate issues of non-compliance and suggest oversight measures when non-compliance becomes a major issue. A head legal officer may also serve as the chief litigator in instances where lawsuits take place.

In most cases, the job of the chief legal officer is to manage paperwork related to legal matters. The officer should make sure that all regulatory codes are complied with, which mainly involves making sure all necessary filings are submitted on time to the proper agencies and are properly filled out. These filings may be prepared by another member of the legal team, or another department entirely, but will often be signed off by the head lawyer.

The chief legal officer also must keep up to date on any changes in the laws, as they apply to his or her specific industry. This may be done through alerts within the industry, or by reading certain trade publications. Most lawyers also have a network of professionals in the legal profession who freely share relevant information with each other continuously. If the proposed law is still going through the approval process, the chief legal officer may try to provide input to the decision makers.

Once a new law has been passed, or when an issue of noncompliance has been found, the chief legal officer may decide to hold an educational outreach event. This may be something as simple as preparing a document that explains the problem, the potential outcomes, and provides a solution to correct the situation. It could also be organizing classes or assemblies so that each affected employee has the opportunity to attend and ask any questions.

When lawsuits arrive, either with the company as the plaintiff or defendant, the chief legal officer may be an active participant in the litigation. The officer will be responsible for making any pretrial motions, deposing witnesses, and then taking the case to trial if the need arises. The head legal officer may also delegate another attorney to serve in the role as chief litigant, but may act as an adviser on strategy throughout the process. This is especially true at larger companies, which may be involved in multiple lawsuits at any given time.

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Discussion Comments

By sunnySkys — On Feb 19, 2012

I've actually had experience with chief legal counsel. When I worked for an insurance company, the company's chief legal officer created a series of webinars to discuss certain compliance issues.

This worked really well, because they could be accessed by any employee whenever the employee had the time. Also, the chief legal office didn't have to travel all around the country to each office. Instead, he created a webinar that could be viewed anywhere. I think online education programs are probably the future for chief legal officers who need to educate other employees.

By ceilingcat — On Feb 18, 2012

@Azuza - Most job that require a license require continuing education too. I know nurses and insurance agents also have to complete certain continuing education requirements.

Anyway, reading through this article, I was struck by how important it is for a business to have access to corporate counsel. It sounds like the chief legal officer can help a company a lot. Having one might mean the difference between being in compliance or getting in legal trouble. That to mean sounds like a worthwhile reason to retain a chief legal officer on staff!

By Azuza — On Feb 17, 2012

I'm assuming that someone who works as a chief legal officer has had at least a few attorney jobs before that one. It sounds like you need to have a lot of legal knowledge to work as a chief legal officer. This definitely doesn't sound like an entry level job!

I also wanted to say that, from what I understand, all lawyers have to stay up to date in their field. It's not just something that a chief legal officer does. However, I imagine a chief legal officer would pay much more attention to new laws in the industry they work in versus new laws that don't affect the business they work for.

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