The US Attorney General is the chief counsel for the United States. He or she is appointed by the President of the US and is part of the Presidential Cabinet. As well as being chief counsel for the government, the US Attorney General also manages and leads the US Department of Justice.
The Attorney General must advise the executive branch of the government regarding legal matters as well as administering the Department of Justice. He or she will also represent the government in legal matters brought to the Supreme Court. If the matter is not considered hugely important, the Attorney General may direct the US Solicitor General to argue legal matters before the court.
Members of the cabinet are not barred from choosing private attorneys to offer them advice. In fact any of the branches of the government or a single department may solicit the advice of a private attorney. However, this attorney cannot argue for them in front of the Supreme Court. That remains the position of either the Attorney General or the Solicitor General.
The US Congress created the position of US Attorney General in 1789. The first Attorney General, Edmund Randolph, served President George Washington from 1789-1784. Initially the position was only to represent the government in the Supreme Court and to advise the President and his cabinet members. Administering the Department of Justice was not added to the role of the Attorney General until 1870. The Department of Justice was not created until this time.
Since the president appoints the Attorney General, usually his or her position ends when the administration changes to a different president. Thus most Attorney Generals will serve a term no longer than eight years.
This was less true for the Attorney General in early the early years after the creation of the US government. William Wirt served as Attorney General for both James Monroe and John Quincy Adams in a term that lasted 12 years.
The first woman to serve as Attorney General, was Janet Reno, appointed by President Bill Clinton. She served the Clinton administration from beginning to end. The first Hispanic Attorney General to be appointed was Alberto Gonzales by President George W. Bush, replacing John Ashcroft in 2005.