Community Perspectives: Is “Head of Legal” a respectable title for a "General Counsel" type role?

In-house legal professionals discuss their thoughts on "Head of Legal" vs "General Counsel" roles.

Community Perspectives: Is “Head of Legal” a respectable title for a "General Counsel" type role?

(Author) General Counsel

Would love some advice here! Do you think “Head of Legal” is a respectable title for a GC type role? I was offered job with the original title of Corporate Counsel. I’m trying to negotiate a better title since it’s the senior attorney for the company and Head of Legal is what they offered. I think General Counsel is not their preference because their parent company counsel has that title. Should I push back with other options or is Head of Legal synonymous with GC. Hard to tell these days!


General Counsel Responses:

  • I’ve been in this situation. I was a GC for a fintech that got acquired by a large company and they refused to let me keep “GC,” even if it was “GC of [subsidiary].” It was non-negotiable for them. I understood, but left the company soon after. That wasn’t what I was looking for, and they didn’t treat me like the actual GC of the sub. Head of Legal usually means “not a true exec / may get layered someday, we’re leaving it open.” But i understand when companies with subs don’t want two GC titles.


Deputy & Associate General Counsel Responses:

  • Assuming General Counsel or Chief Legal Officer are off the table, Head of Legal would be my preferred title. I’d push back on the GC thing, though. It’s not unusual to have GC’s at each company. For example, our parent company has a GC and so do we. Funny enough, our company is the largest in our portfolio so the GC position at our company is significantly more important and has a much more experienced attorney in it that at our parent company, which is just a holding company.
  • If I were running a legal department, I would demand a General Counsel title. But that’s just me. Taking a “head of legal” title leaves the possibility open for the company to hire someone over you at some point. Being the head lawyer at a company is hard work, and I would want the General Counsel title to show for it.
    The only exception would be if the job was at a startup and I was given a lot of equity. Sometimes startups just won’t give a general counsel title.
  • The title of general council is almost always synonymous with being a section 16 officer. If they don’t want the new hire to be an officer, they wouldn’t allow that title.


Counsel Responses:

  • It’s not synonymous afaik. My understanding is it’s better for the company because you aren’t part of the official executive team, they could hire someone above you without making an official replacement, and they can avoid equity conversations. I don’t think it’s an uncommon title if they are hiring their first attorney on a trial basis that they might promote to GC later, but that doesn’t have GC-level experience where they can command that title right away. I also heard of it being easier to sideline Heads of Legal while the company is growing, but I don’t have personal experience. My knowledge is second hand.
  • In Tech, Head of Legal signals a tactical role vs. GC is a strategic role that is part of the exec team.
  • Yeah if you aren’t actually part of the exec team, you don’t want a GC title bc you have no idea what they’re up to. Get the title that matches your function


Author Update:

  • Update is they wouldn’t go for GC because it wasn’t consistent with the titles of their parent company legal department. Head of legal it is. Originally it was corporate counsel so at least it’s better than that.


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