The legal department of a business handles legal issues that may come up in the course of business, ranging from drafting waiver forms for employees to handling lawsuits from angry customers. Many large companies have this type of department; smaller companies may choose to keep a lawyer or a staff of lawyers on retainer, ensuring that they have quick access to legal knowledge when they need it. Customers can often find themselves interacting with the department, especially when they file complaints or indicate that they believe a business is not operating within the law.
Members of the legal department are typically trained and qualified lawyers, along with a support staff of legal assistants and other law professionals. Ideally, the department focuses only on tasks that require a trained lawyer; in other words, employees may look over a letter from an executive to ensure that it will not cause problems in the future, but they will not draft letters for members of the company, unless the letters pertain to legal matters.
One of the most important roles for employees in this department is as legal advisers. Before marketing a new product, staff members will often discuss it with the lawyers. Executives may talk with the staff about potential legal issues ranging from being accused of discrimination in hiring practices to sexual harassment. The department may also offer training and assistance with employee manuals to ensure that the company and its employees are kept up to date on workplace law, reducing the risk of potential suits.
The legal department will also become involved in customer complaints, ensuring that the responses to these complaints are drafted in a professional style that also covers the company's bases legally. In the event that a company is sued, either from within or from the outside, the department will represent the company in the suit. It also handles the filing of patents and other legal documents with official agencies.
In a large, multi-national company, the legal department can be massive, approaching the size of a large law firm. The lawyers may come from different nations and have different training backgrounds, ensuring that every aspect of the company's business is covered, from a manufacturing plant in England to a bank in India. The staff members may also work together on deals, using their years of experience to vet proposals and documents, ensuring that the company is getting the best legal representation and advice possible.