What to expect from an in-house legal counsel job interview
in Careers Advice, Employers, Interviews, Legal Profession

What to expect from an in-house legal counsel job interview

The first thing to say in relation to interviews for in-house roles is to expect the unexpected, because every company is governed by its HR department. If you have never worked in house before you will find that some HR departments seem to govern just about everything and come up with the most complex recruitment processes you have ever seen. This includes some strange and wonderful interviews and interview techniques used to determine who fits the “culture” of the company in question. Sometimes we get feedback from candidates and are quite impressed at the way the recruitment has been handled, and there’s other times we just listen in horror at how awful the company has been to interview for.

The second thing to say in relation to in-house legal job interviews is that they do differ quite dramatically from private practice law firm interviews. This is mainly because the process is not entirely “owned” by the solicitors doing the recruitment. Quite often there are lots of different layers to the recruitment process within the business, and this will include senior management, finance, HR and the existing lawyers.  The best structure of legal job interviews for in-house solicitor roles is when the company let the solicitor in the department do the first interview, as we think this saves considerable time and effort for everybody concerned, including the candidate if the current lawyer meets the potential lawyer and they decide either the work is not suitable or they’re not particularly compatible with each other and want to work together (if this is indeed going to be the case). The worst sort of first interview is the one that HR conduct as it can be a complete waste of time for everybody concerned because quite often the HR professional may well know lots about interviewing people to get an idea of their personality, but have no idea at all as to their suitability for a particular legal role from a technical background.

Advice to In House Legal Departments for Interview Structure

8 top tips for ensuring a successful interview with a potential legal in house candidate:

1. Firstly, get the current in-house legal counsel to conduct the first interview. Take no excuses from them as to how busy they are and do not have the time to take to meet potential candidates. Their time in this will save everybody else in the company considerable amounts of time and effort; as stated above if the solicitor or barrister meets with the potential lawyer and decides their practical knowledge is insufficient or they’re not going to fit into the role of the team, then it saves everybody time and effort if the first interview is able to end the recruitment process with an incompatible candidate.

2. Once the first interview has taken place then by all means get HR in to conduct their character or culture interview with the candidate if you feel this is necessary, but similarly it might well be worth having HR on board for a second round of interviews which involve technical problems plus the HR interview so that you kill two birds with one stone and do not get the candidate back unnecessarily for a third time.

3. We would normally recommend having a technical interview of some sort and giving the candidate a problem to deal with, a contract to discuss or something from the day to day operation of your business to put them on the spot and see how they cope. If you do not undertake such an exercise you will have no idea as to the compatibility of the candidate to your legal department. Because in-house lawyers vary so widely in the work they cover, the technical know-how that they have and the depth of this know-how, then you could end up with somebody who is completely unsuitable for the role simply because you haven’t gone through the correct process in checking out their abilities and their personality.

4. Do not have the interview process that lasts longer than two visits to your company premises. It is fairly normal in private practice for solicitors to attend two interviews on separate days, but quite rare to see more than this. Ask yourself; is it really necessary to request a senior lawyer to take at least three separate dates off work simply to come to your offices to discuss a job that could have been done in one or two visits at the most?

5. Try to keep everything moving smoothly. We hear horror stories of in-house legal jobs where firms clearly want to recruit, candidates want to join but someone in the finance department has decided they need to have a meeting with someone in the HR department before the recruitment can actually go ahead, and by the time this happens the candidate has found a job elsewhere and moved on, and suddenly the company are back to square one.

6. Think carefully from the outset as to how the recruitment process is going to be structured if you find potential candidates that fit the bill. If you are the candidate, give each company every chance to get through each process and do not start putting unnecessary demands on them to make decisions by certain dates, as this simply doesn’t work in most in-house legal departments and companies.

7. Do not determine a package from the outset; don’t let your finance department dictate what this package will be without actually checking with candidates what sort of level is going to be a good fit. Recruitment agents can give you salary predictions but they can never be wholly accurate, and it does very much depend on what local competitors are paying, how much it will cost to entice someone away from another business, and also how much effort you will need to put in to recruitment to attract someone to the salary band you have come up with.

8. The whole interview process should be as smooth as possible and you should be trying to facilitate easy recruitment without putting the candidate under too much stress going through the process. Any stress that is put on the candidate should be done in a way to test out their capabilities in the role, and not to test their patience and slowly drive them insane.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk