A Title, By Any Other Name . . .

Associate General Counsel, Assistant General Counsel, Deputy General Counsel, Director Of Legal Services, Corporate Counsel, Senior Corporate Counsel, Senior Attorney, Lawyer In Charge Of Everything. Is it worth it in a tight market for candidates to negotiate for what they perceive to be better and beefier titles? Are they wasting their breath? Do titles really matter?

Titles do matter in several ways. At the psychological level they inevitably convey a certain degree of professional status. But candidates should be careful about getting hung up on this. Once you get below the General Counsel level (at least in the eyes of the outside world) the degrees of difference between the various titles narrow down to next to nothing. In some large companies with embedded hierarchies there are differences in compensation packages and managerial responsibility that are strictly related to an employee's title. There is, however, no consistency among the companies about which attorney job titles are further up the chain than others. In some companies Associate General Counsels are higher up the chain than Assistant General Counsels. In other companies, it's exactly the opposite.

Apart from projecting a certain status to the outside world, job titles at some companies can be significant sources of internal status. In these types of companies, a person's job title can result in increased deference, power, and access to information. However, most technology companies (mature and start-up) de-emphasize the importance of job titles by flattening their organizational structures and encouraging more egalitarian interactions among employees--from top to bottom. . When a candidate is considering an in-house opportunity, it is important to get a good read on the company's culture. If you feel that the level of contribution you can make will be affected by the difference between being called an Associate General Counsel or a Senior Attorney that may tell you that the company enforces bright lines of authority and responsibility. That could be a good thing by providing you with a clear upward career path within the company. It could also be stifling if you seek a job where you can increase the level of your responsibility through initiative and the expansion of your own skill set, rather than waiting for a spot to open up "above" you in the chain of command.

What about positioning yourself for your next job? Are you more marketable for a General Counsel position if your title is Associate GC? Deputy GC? Assistant GC? Senior Counsel? Corporate Counsel? Our experience has taught us that it doesn't matter. You are certainly more marketable if you already possess the General Counsel title, but after that, as it relates to the great, gray middle of the job title spectrum; that's exactly how the clients look at it: a great, gray middle. Their main concern will be the nature of your experience and how much of it you have. Subtle job title distinctions will be of no interest to them.

Our advice to candidates is not to sweat over job titles. Beyond the major distinctions of GC versus non-GC spots and VP versus Director positions; job titles should never be a deal breaker, and should only figure on the periphery in your job-hunting efforts. The most important thing about a title is that it accurately projects to the outside world some sense of what the lawyer actually does within the company.


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