What Is a Chief Legal Officer (CLO)?

A chief legal officer (CLO) is often a publicly-traded company's most powerful legal executive. The chief legal officer (CLO) is an expert and leader who helps the company minimize its legal risks by advising the company's other officers and board members on any major legal and regulatory issues the company confronts, such as litigation risks.

The CLO may also be a member of the company's operating committee and is overseen by the CEO. The CLO oversees the company's in-house attorneys.

Key Takeaways

  • A chief legal officer (CLO) is a legal executive appointed to govern a firm's legal department, lead in-house attorneys, provide direction on major legal and regulatory issues, and work to minimize legal risks.
  • In general, a chief legal officer's professional history includes roles such as the head of legal, general counsel, and general partner.
  • The CLO often keeps the company abreast of legal changes that affect the firm or their industry.
  • Other CLO duties include establishing a curriculum to educate employees on legal matters, overseeing hiring practices, and litigating on behalf of the company.

Understanding the Chief Legal Officer (CLO)

When a large, publicly-traded company hires a new CLO, it may make the news, just as the hiring of a new COO or CFO might. A CLO typically has an extensive career in law; positions a CLO might hold before becoming an executive include the head of legal, first general counsel, and firm partner.

Responsibilities of a Chief Legal Officer

The structure of each company can vary and the specific duties of the CLO role may not be the same at each organization. The position can include keeping the executive leadership informed of new or changing laws that may affect or relate to their operations and industry. The CLO might also establish curriculum programs if necessary for employees who need to understand legal matters and protocols that relate to their roles or the company’s operations.

For instance, certain types of products must first pass regulatory approvals and each unit then must undergo inspection before being released for sale. A failure of that process and any related injuries—through contamination, for instance—may expose the company to litigation.

Understanding the contracts signed by the company, as well as agreements of confidentiality, can fall under the CLO’s responsibilities. Making sure that managers and other workers are also aware of how they can affect the company’s legal standing may also be part of the role.

Keeping the company aware of compliance issues and recommending a course of action to remedy such matters also fall under the duties of the CLO. There is also an aspect of corporate governance to the role, in which certain responsibilities and duties rest with the CLO to ensure the company is not violating laws. For example, this may include guaranteeing the company conducts its hiring process following employment law standards, adheres to appropriate product labeling regulations, fulfills health and safety codes, and files reports that are mandated by government agencies.

If the company is involved in litigation, the chief legal officer might represent the company directly, lead the legal team that does, or select the attorney who will.