If you have been working at a law firm for some time with a background in corporate law, and wish to try out something new, then working as an in-house counsel for a company in a specific industry sector can feel like an exciting prospect. However, we understand that it can be quite confusing to prepare for a job without knowing what to expect at the interview that you will inevitably have to face. But don’t worry, we have you covered. Here in this article, we shall look at some of the broad questions that are asked in an interview for an in-house counsel role. We are confident that once you get to the end of this article, you shall ace that interview and bag that job you want easily. Here, in this article, we will discuss the In-House Counsel Interview questions over here.
A legal counsel or an in-house counsel is essentially a lawyer who works at a private company in any industry as their legal adviser. They are hired directly by that company, and they serve as the company’s lawyer in some cases. Usually, companies look for lawyers who have worked for some time in a corporate law firm. Experience working in-house is welcome but not always necessary. An in-house legal counsel’s responsibilities include safeguarding the company’s interests by ensuring that they steer clear of all legal troubles. In addition, they oversee the legal framework for major structural changes in the company, such as when a company is going public.
In-House Counsel Interview Questions
While it is natural that a decent legal counsel will be well-versed in matters of the law, they should have some basic technical knowledge specific to the industry the company is working in. Therefore, the questions that shall be asked during an interview for the role of an in-house counsel will be designed to test a candidate on their legal expertise and competence, along with their industry-specific knowledge. The following is a list of questions that can be asked in an interview for in-house counsel at a company and ideal ways of responding to them. Let us check them out:
- Why do you wish to be a legal counsel for our industry?
The interviewer would like to see how much industry-related knowledge the candidate has. Instead of directly asking them about their knowledge, the interviewer will probably allow them to display what they like about their industry through a question like this. A candidate who has some experience working in that industry will find it easy to answer this question. In case the candidate lacks experience, they should definitely do some research before coming for the interview. Talking to professionals who already work in the industry is a good way to know what it is like. The interviewer needs to know that the candidate fully understands what it is like to work in that industry and whether they are enthusiastic about it. The ideal answer to this question should contain some intrinsic aspects of the industry that the candidate likes.
- Why do you wish to work for our company?
This is a typical question asked at almost every job interview. A candidate who really wants the job will know enough about the company to say why they wish to work there. We recommend going through the company website at least once before showing up for the interview to know their vision and mission statement and their broad goals to impress the interviewer into thinking that the candidate is diligent enough to have done their homework. The candidate should be able to talk about some specific aspects of the company which they admire and show that their personal values align with the professional ideals that the company embodies to convince the interviewer that they shall be a good fit for the company.
- What professional experience do you have that will help you in this job?
Of course, the interviewer would want to know everything about the candidate’s work experience. It is important not to get carried away and burden the interviewer with too much information but to provide only that necessary. The candidate should talk about their legal experience briefly, starting from their training to the jobs that they have held at law firms, including the duties they had to fulfill at work. They should definitely highlight any experience in corporate law. A candidate who already has a history of working with firms as in-house counsel should talk about the type of work they did to show the interviewer that they already know how to handle themself in the position of an in-house counsel. It is important to be honest in a job interview and not give out untrue information. The interviewer will probably check with the firms the candidate has worked with previously before hiring them anyway, so any false information will eventually be caught.
- Describe your management style.
An in-house counsel for a company has to interact with various attorneys and other public members and supervise a team of attorneys. Large firms sometimes have a team of junior lawyers working for them, under the leadership of the in-house counsel. It is the junior lawyers who perform a lot of critical tasks, and the style of leadership that the candidate employs will set the general mood of work at the company’s legal team. Apart from being proficient as a lawyer, an in-house counsel must also have competent management and leadership skills to lead the team working under them properly. The interviewer will be looking for a proper management philosophy, good communication and people skills, and experience in the organization on behalf of the candidate. The candidate can also talk about previous instances where they fulfilled a leadership role at work while answering this question.
- How would you approach the job of delivering bad news to a senior executive?
The general counsel of a company is responsible for interacting with the senior executives on legal matters. This includes the duty of relaying unwelcome news, such as the necessity of implementing changes in company policy that might cut profits. Since nobody likes to hear bad news, this task requires the candidate to have excellent communication skills and a sensitive and tactful approach to it. Therefore, the candidate should display a preference for diplomacy and tact while answering this question, apart from sensitivity to what might upset people. However, they should also show that they will stand their ground in serious situations and not sanitize facts to appease the executives.
- What would you do if you disagreed with a proposed course of action by the management?
Since an in-house counsel’s job is to ensure that the company is always on the right path legally, they often have to step in and correct company plans which may not be legally sound. This requires the ability to balance corporate needs with the law. A company’s management would not want to hear that the high-profit plan they came up with is actually illegal. Therefore, apart from having adequate legal expertise, the candidate should have the integrity to stick to their professional stance without jeopardizing professional relationships. The candidate should answer this question in a way that shows that they will reject a business proposal only after they have tried every way possible to make it fit with the law. Still, once they have done so, they shall ensure that the company does not get involved in anything illegal.
- How much work do you try to keep in house and how much do you give to outside counsel?
In-house attorneys have to decide how much work they can do in the house and how much it must involve an outside firm. While outside firms definitely bring in a lot of extra expertise, they are also quite expensive and considerably drive up the company costs. A wise candidate will know how much work can be managed by the company’s legal team and when there will be a need for outside help. The candidate should display an understanding of budgetary restrictions and the ability to solve problems in financially constrained situations. An ideal answer to this question should display the candidate’s experience working with outside law firms and their relationships.
- What do you think will be the greatest legal challenge this company will face in the coming years?
Since an in-house counsel is also an important leadership position, a candidate for that role must have a certain degree of foresight. Good attorneys plan ahead of the curve and are prepared for any future difficulties that might affect the firm. The candidate needs to show that they actively think about future legal challenges. The answer they give will show their legal expertise and ability to plan. A well-informed candidate about legal and regulatory developments related to the industry and knows how changes can affect the industry will be looked upon favorably. The interviewer needs to see that the candidate can be trusted to guide the company to stay clear of legal hurdles if they are hired and that they are motivated enough to take the initiative by themselves in this regard.
- Tell us about the most challenging situation you have dealt with at work and how did it turn out.
The purpose of this question is to test the candidate’s professional competence. The interviewer will want to see if the candidate is experienced in handling tricky situations and approaching an issue with a calm and rational bent of mind. The candidate’s answer will display their problem-solving ability and level of experience in dealing with industry-specific legal problems. The candidate should talk about past experiences when they had to work with low budgets and tight schedules, avoiding paying fines, protected the interests of the company they worked with by ensuring that they did not have to face any additional issues. They should highlight any extra effort they put in at the time to get out of a sticky situation and how it paid off to show the interviewer that they are willing to go that extra mile for the company’s sake.
- Tell us about a time when you had to deal with failure at the workplace.
A good candidate will know how to learn from their mistakes and improve themselves instead of being upset with failure. The candidate should talk about a professional experience when they did not get the results they were expecting and how they understood what went wrong. Their answer should emphasize the need for retrospection after failure to show that they take self-improvement seriously. A candidate who can display the self-awareness and humility to accept their own shortcomings, learn from them, and ensure they do not repeat the same mistakes in the future will impress the interviewer greatly. After all, an in-house counsel can hardly afford to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
Being an in-house attorney for a company is a lot of responsibility. But responsibility can be fun if you enjoy guiding junior employees and contributing to your organization’s growth by protecting them from problems they face in the present and that they might face in the future by putting your legal expertise and experience to good use. Now that you know what to expect in that interview, you will be able to breeze through it without any hiccups. Best of luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
- How should I dress for the interview? Dress professionally. A neat appearance shows that you take the job seriously, which is something every interviewer likes to see.
- Is it necessary to have worked on the legal team of another company in the same industry in order to be a general in-house counsel? Companies typically look for individuals who have considerable experience in working in corporate law and are knowledgeable about industry needs. Having worked at a law firm and handled industry-related cases for long is also a good qualification for becoming an in-house legal counsel.