What does a legal officer do? (With duties and key skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're passionate about working in the legal and corporate world, a legal officer job can be an ideal path for you. In this position, you require legal knowledge to assist organisations in complying with laws and regulations while conducting business and minimising litigation risks. With time and experience, you can advance to the position of chief legal officer. In this article, we define what a legal officer is, answer ‘What does a legal officer do?', explain the steps to becoming one, share key skills for these professionals and discuss their work environment.

What is a legal officer?

A legal officer is a professional overseeing all legal matters in their organisation. They're responsible for internal and external legal issues, such as compliance and keeping their company out of legal trouble. Corporations, government entities and other organisations may hire legal officers. They often work under upper-level company employees such as the chief legal officer, while also guiding and overseeing a workforce of lower-level legal personnel.

Related: How to become a lawyer (including potential career paths)

What does a legal officer do?

Knowing ‘What does a legal officer do?' can enable you to decide if this career path is right for you. Depending on where they work, a legal officer discharges a variety of duties and responsibilities, which can include:

Offer legal advice

Legal officers may brief a team of company employees on legal questions, potential liabilities and policy options using oral or written platforms. This entails interpreting technical legal language into plain English and considering all potential legal issues before making any recommendations. All suggestions the legal officer makes require full compliance with the law while reducing risk to the organisation.

Process legal documents

Any legal work entails a significant amount of paperwork, and a legal officer's job is no exception. Legal officers typically draft and review settlement paperwork, contracts, client agreements, demand notes, share certificates, court filings and other legal documents. This activity may occupy a large part of a legal officer's day-to-day work and demands attentiveness and accuracy.

Conduct legal research

Because laws and policies evolve constantly, it's the legal officer's responsibility to conduct studies into legal materials. This can include researching and reviewing judicial precedents, domestic and international laws, journals, articles and Hansard reports. Performing research allows the legal officer to stay current on all new laws and offer well-informed legal advice.

Identify and mitigate risk

Legal concerns may require precautionary measures before they even arise. Therefore, it's critical for legal officers to regularly examine their companies' activities and decisions to discover key areas of concern. Doing so enables these professionals to recommend alternative plans of action and reduce risk to the greatest extent.

Direct staff

When a legal matter is in motion, a legal officer directs parties to the matter. In this role, a legal officer can work with claim adjusters, insurance assessors, liability attorneys and the internal legal team. The legal team can continue with clarity, efficiency and confidence under proper leadership and conclude the matter successfully.

Related: Types of law work experience to advance your career

Key skills of a legal officer

Legal officers who succeed in their jobs are excellent multitaskers, critical thinkers and passionate leaders. Companies look for legal officers with the following skills:

Commercial awareness

One of the most crucial skills for legal officers is current knowledge of local, national and international business trends, particularly any issues that affect the company. Legal officers offer relevant legal counsel to build trusted connections with current clients. These professionals require a good understanding of the commercial value of fulfilling compliance deadlines, keeping legal risks low and managing information confidentially.

Legal officers may consider the short-, medium- and long-term effects of their company's business proposition, including the organisation's capabilities, weaknesses, opportunities and vulnerabilities. This enables them to deliver the best possible pragmatic, business-oriented legal advice.

Attention to detail

Accuracy is critical to a legal officer's career. A single misspelt word or grammatical error can affect the meaning of a phrase or contract. When present in important documents such as official emails, letters or advisory documents, these errors can create a negative impression and damage the company's reputation. A detail-oriented legal officer is likely to earn the respect of their peers, colleagues and employers.

Communication

Clients, other legal officers, judicial officers, court personnel and regulators are among the people with whom legal officers communicate regularly. They also engage with clients and experts to explain and answer questions about the legal process. A legal officer requires confidence when briefing non-legal staff, presenting a case before court or tribunals, negotiating settlements and explaining technical details.

Written communication helps a legal officer draft legal documents and letters on behalf of the company. They may require fluency in technical and legal jargon to communicate concisely. When working with clients, communication skills are important to create relationships and instil confidence in your clients.

Analytical and problem-solving skills

Legal officers study and interpret laws, contracts and other legal documents. They require critical thinking and problem-solving skills to understand these documents and apply them accordingly. It may also be necessary for legal officers to craft innovative solutions to problems the law doesn't anticipate or address. They employ these abilities to address legal difficulties, solve complex problems and resolve conflicts.

Research and reading

Legal officers require the ability to do research to learn about regulations, precedents and other legal issues. They can then interpret legal documentation and the applicable rules and regulations. It may be necessary for legal officers to locate important resources and contact other legal professionals for advice or guidance. Legal research entails a lot of reading and analysing facts, numbers and material and condensing it into manageable information. It's crucial for the legal officer to pick what's important and present it to the company or other staff clearly.

Organisation

It may be necessary for legal officers to undertake several competing tasks on a typical day. Such tasks include researching legal issues, drafting legal documents, briefing upper management, meeting clients, responding to letters and attending court proceedings. It's critical for legal officers to prioritise and stay focused. Organisation skills help legal officers manage their workloads and keep track of legal documents in their possession.

Related: Essential lawyer skills for CVs (plus how to develop them)

Legal officers' work environment

Legal officers get employed in law firms, government agencies, charitable organisations and private businesses. Typically, legal officers work a 40-hour week, though they may work additional hours to fulfil deadlines or be ready for court dates. They spend most of their time working in the office and at meetings. Sometimes, they may travel for conferences or client meetings. In busy environments, legal officers work under pressure to meet deadlines. Depending on the employer, they may report to the chief legal officer or company secretary. In smaller operations, legal officers may report directly to the business owner or general manager.

How to become a legal officer

Follow these steps to see how to become a legal officer:

1. Complete high school education

The first step to becoming a legal officer is completing a high school education. While no specific subjects are necessary to join a law school, subjects such as English, mathematics and business can help you gain important skills, such as analytical and writing skills. It's essential that you do your best in your A-levels because entry to law school is usually competitive.

2. Get an undergraduate degree

The next step is completing an undergraduate degree. This degree typically takes three years to complete. For your undergraduate course, you can enrol for a Bachelor of Laws (LLB), a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.

3. Apply for law school

After completing your undergraduate degree, you can apply to join a law school. Here, you undertake a postgraduate course to prepare you for a legal career. Securing a slot at a law school requires you to pass the solicitors qualifying exam (SQE). This exam tests your knowledge of the law and ethics.

Getting into law school is competitive, and attaining a high grade in your undergraduate can help you secure a vacancy. Non-LLB applicants with limited knowledge of law may find it challenging to pass the SQE, but adequate preparation can help you attain the requisite score.

Related: Guide to law apprenticeships: salaries, options and routes

4. Get specialised training

After qualifying from law school, you may require specialised training from a law firm, typically for two years. Apply for training from law firms that specialise in commercial, environmental, employment and intellectual property law. Some law firms may offer all of these simultaneously. It's also necessary to pass a professional exam under the sponsorship of the law firm where you're getting specialist training.

Related: How to write a legal CV (with template and example)

5. Apply for an entry-level position

After completing specialist training, you can now apply for an entry-level position in companies. It's essential to craft a compelling curriculum vitae emphasising your education, work experience and key skills. An entry-level position may see you working under a more experienced legal officer. As you gain more experience, you can earn internal promotions or apply for external higher-level positions, such as a chief legal officer.

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