A corporation's chief legal officer (CLO) serves as legal advisor to the company. It's the duty of the CLO or general counsel to oversee every aspect of the business's legal affairs. The CLO's responsibilities typically include lawsuits, regulation compliance and training company staff to stay within the law.
Like the chief financial officer position, chief legal officer is a high-level management post. The corporate board hires its legal officer, and it has the power to fire him as well. A CLO may have a staff of attorneys working under him, but it's the officer who makes the legal decisions and sets policy, subject to the board.
CLO Duties and Responsibilities
A CLO's exact duties depend on what the company wants from her, but some responsibilities are common, including:
- Advise the executives and employees on changes to the laws affecting the company.
- Investigate if the company or a staff member does not comply with the law.
- Oversee lawsuits, possibly acting as chief litigator.
- Ensure the company fills out and submits all its legal paperwork.
In addition to being top legal counsel, the CLO is also part of the corporation's management. Part of her duty as a manager is to increase the firm's profitability and shareholder value. That can create a conflict with her duty to call out illegal or noncompliant actions. If the CLO sides with management, she may not be able to fulfill her watchdog responsibilities; if she aggressively monitors the corporation's legal conduct, she may find herself isolated from other officers.
To carry out his legal role, the CFO has to fulfill several subsidiary responsibilities:
- Know how to recruit, train, manage and retain legal talent.
- Manage the legal budget to get the most services for the least money.
- Be conscious of the needs of the company's owners.
- Stay informed about what's going on at the company.
- Understand the business and the industry.
- Stay proactive. Reacting after the company has broken the law costs more money and can ruin the firm's reputation.
Becoming a CLO
CLO is a demanding job and not everyone can live up to the responsibilities. It often takes years of hard work in a lower-ranking position before an attorney can convince a corporate board that she's the right person to serve as legal officer. It doesn't hurt aspiring CLOs to start thinking about their career path while still in law school. Specializing in corporate law classes is a good start.
First-class communication skills are essential for a CLO. It's also important to have good judgment. A CLO often has multiple demands and multiple information streams on any given issue. She has to have the judgment to sort everything out and make a good decision.