what is a legal counsel?

As a legal counsel, your job is to provide legal advice to a company's legal department. Companies often choose to hire a legal counsel instead of independent lawyers when they have multiple compliance requirements and may need advice from a lawyer. For example, you may work for an organisation that handles multiple contracts and needs legal representation to review the documents and handle disputes that arise from them. As a legal counsel, you may work in financial institutions and corporate offices in various business sectors, such as manufacturing, consulting, marketing, communications, or mining.

A legal counsel handles all legal matters for their clients, working on several aspects of the law. For example, if a company faces a lawsuit on compliance issues or contract disputes, you are expected to navigate all aspects of the law. In addition to having legal knowledge, a legal counsel must also integrate into the client's business structure. For instance, in mining or manufacturing, it is important to understand the processes and operations of the business to provide effective legal guidance.

view vacancies

average legal counsel salary

As a legal counsel, your annual salary averages at $135,000. However, this amount can vary based on different factors. For instance, if you are starting in an entry-level position, you may earn a remuneration package of $115,000 per year or less as you learn the ropes. As you gain experience, your salary may increase to over $155,000 per year.

how to increase your salary as a legal counsel

The compensation that a legal counsel receives is influenced by various factors, with the size of the company being one of them. In a small firm, the legal counsel is responsible for handling a lower number of legal matters compared to their counterparts in larger companies. In a larger organisation, the legal counsel is involved in dealing with intricate compliance issues and legal matters that require extensive industry knowledge. Additionally, the legal counsel is responsible for overseeing the signing of multiple contracts, which can increase their compensation prospects.

If you work in a metropolitan area, you may earn a higher salary because the demand for your role may be high. In some metropolitan areas, there may be additional compliance requirements that can increase your earning potential. Your salary expectation will also depend on your experience and educational qualifications. As a recent graduate with minimal experience in the field, your salary may be lower than that of an experienced legal counsel.

view careers

types of legal counsel

Legal counsel specialises in different areas depending on their role in a company and the matters they handle. Here are some areas of specialisation for legal counsels:

  • issuer counsel: they ensure that the state authorising the bond has followed the rules and regulations for issuing bonds. They check for compliance with local or state laws and file the necessary documentation to fulfil disclosure laws. They provide legal advice before the actual issuance of the bonds.
  • bond counsel: they represent the interests of bondholders as part of the legal counsel for the debt issuance team. They act on behalf of the bondholders to ensure that the proposed municipal securities meet all the procedural and legal requirements. They also draft the relevant documentation showing the legality of the bonds.
  • tax compliance legal counsel: they provide expertise in tax laws affecting the company. They ensure compliance with complex tax issues to avoid penalties and fines.
close up, smiling man looking down, wearing suit and tie
close up, smiling man looking down, wearing suit and tie

working as a legal counsel

If you are interested in working as a legal counsel, explore the role's daily activities, responsibilities and career outlook.


education and skills

To become a legal counsel, you should be a degree-qualified expert in law. Some of the educational qualifications required include:

  • bachelor’s degree: you require a bachelor’s degree in law (LLB) to become a legal counsel in New Zealand. If you completed a bachelor’s degree in a different field, you can become a legal counsel by completing the Juris Doctor (JD) qualification. A law degree takes five years, while a Juris Doctor takes three years. To practise law in New Zealand, complete the Practical Legal Training (PLT) requirement during the study. You may also consider completing a postgraduate study like a master of law
  • work experience: gain experience through the PLT since you will work with a qualified lawyer. The program takes three months for full-time or eight months for part-time students. When you have the PLT, you receive a graduate diploma of legal practice, which you use to apply for a legal practitioner in your territory or city. You must obtain a Certificate of Completion from the NZCLE , and be admitted to the roll of Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of New Zealand  and hold a current practicing certificate issued by the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) .

legal counsel skills and competencies

Legal counsel are required to possess a diverse range of skills, some of which include:

  • exceptional writing skills: legal counsel are responsible for drafting various legal documents such as contracts, agreements, and compliance policies. To ensure that these documents meet the legal requirements and are free from errors, they must possess excellent writing skills.
  • organisational skills: with numerous legal matters to juggle, legal counsel must possess exceptional organisational skills. This enables them to plan their work schedule, prioritise tasks, and ensure that every legal matter is handled in a timely and efficient manner.
  • interpersonal skills: legal counsel work with a wide range of professionals within the legal industry. They rely on their interpersonal skills to effectively collaborate with others, especially through active listening and communication. This enables them to build strong relationships with clients, stakeholders, and other professionals.
  • legal knowledge: a comprehensive understanding of the law and legal processes is a critical skill for legal counsel. They must be knowledgeable about various legal aspects, such as compliance requirements and dispute resolution procedures, to help their clients remain compliant and resolve disputes effectively.

In summary, legal counsel requires a combination of writing, organisational, interpersonal, and legal knowledge skills to deliver excellent legal services to clients.


FAQs about working as a legal counsel

Here, you will find the answers to the most frequently asked questions about the profession of a legal counsel.

thank you for subscribing to your personalised job alerts.