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.

BREAKING DOWN 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 of legal experience; positions a CLO might hold prior to becoming an executive include 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 that result for instance through contamination, 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, where 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 in accordance with 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 so, or select the attorney who will.