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What is a Corporation Counsel?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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A corporation counsel is an attorney who acts as chief legal officer for a municipality. While most municipalities retain attorneys to provide advice and representation, the job title for the leading legal officer is not necessarily “corporation counsel,” depending on how the legal department is structured. To enter this job, people need to be fully qualified attorneys in good standing with the bar and they usually need legal experience, including experience in a corporation counsel's office providing legal services to a municipality. This job typically comes with benefits, as with other jobs for municipal employees.

Corporation counsels complete a number of different kinds of tasks as part of their work. One is as a representative of the city in civil cases. When a city needs to sue someone for civil violations or is responding to a suit, the corporation counsel supervises the legal suit. These city officials can also be involved in working out legal settlements in cases where it is possible to negotiate an agreement before taking a case to court.

Legal advice to city employees is also provided by a corporation counsel. People with questions about ordinances, disclaimers, legal responsibilities, and other matters pertaining to the law can consult the office of the corporation counsel for assistance. Legal advice is dispensed widely on request, as these city employees would rather address issues before they become problems by providing advice and assistance than find out after the fact about a legal issue.

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Corporation counsels can also be involved in drafting new ordinances and issuing opinions on ordinances, as well as studying ordinances proposed in other cities to see if they are suitable for adoption. The corporation counsel has a support staff of other attorneys, along with clerks and aides to assist with the preparation of documents, legal research, pursuit of cases in court, and so forth. Internal promotion is common in such offices and people may rise to the position of corporation counsel from the ranks of the office staff.

This job usually does not require travel, although corporation counsels may attend professional conferences with attorneys from other cities and can also travel for some types of research. The hours tend to be very regular, although counsels may be called after hours in legal emergencies, and the work environment is similar to that of other office settings. In addition to reasonable pay, most corporation counsels are entitled to city benefits including health care plans, pensions, and paid vacation time.

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