Making the switch from law firm to in-house can be a great move for your career and for your overall work-life balance. However, it's important to remember that the in-house interview process is different than what you may be used to. The questions that you will be asked and how your answers will be evaluated are also different. The following provides everything you need to know to nail your in-house attorney interview.
To prepare for the in house counsel interview, you need to first understand the differences in the processes between the hiring practices.
A big reason for this difference is how the in-house attorney fits into the overall business. Going from law firm where you are a revenue generator, to in-house where you are a cost center, means that your value shifts. This translates to a new process that places different values on you as a candidate and the need for the position in the role.
The typical law firm interview process looks like the following:
- Apply to a job through a posting or a referral
- Complete a 30 Minute phone screen with the Law Firm Administrator or HR
- Meet with the department heads for an hour to assess fit.
- Prepare for a 1 day interview where you will meet everyone in the department including potential colleagues.
- Receive and negotiate the offer including equity terms if any
- Complete the conflicts check
- Prepare to transition your clients over and to join the new law firm
However, the typical in-house attorney interviewing process looks like the following:
- Apply to the job online or through an employee referral
- Complete a 30-minute phone screen with HR or an external recruiter.
- Meet with the hiring manager by phone or video for a 30 minute screening interview.
- Meet with the hiring manager and/or HR for a more extended screening interview (typically 60 Minutes)
- Complete requisite skills tests or other additional assessments
- Complete a round of colleague interviews by video or in-person. Typically 3 - 4 people that will include some business people rather than lawyers.
- Meet with the General Counsel or other senior leadership for an assessment of your fit for their corporate culture and vision.
- Meet with HR again to discuss terms, receive benefits information, and provide references. Could be another official interview or more of a recap of the process to gauge your interest in the role.
- Receive offer and negotiate terms.
- Complete background checks, drug tests, etc.
- Prepare to start the new job in 2 weeks and transition any clients over in the law firm.
The people involved in the law firm interviews are different than those that will be involved in the in-house interviews. And, the people will all be looking for different qualities in the candidates in the law firm versus in-house counsel interview.
As explained above, the people involved in the law firm interviewing process are mostly lawyers and senior administrators or leaders in the law firm. You will likely not meet with the general business people in this process unless it is particularly relevant to the particular job at that law firm.
However, in the in-house counsel interview, you will meet with a wide variety of people. Be prepared to be interviewed by human resources (internal or otherwise), administrators, business people, other lawyers, and senior leaders in the company.
Each person that you meet within the in-house counsel interview will be looking for different information. And, all of them will be focused on whether you are a fit for their culture. These people will expect that you can do the job and you need to connect with them as a person and partner to the business. These people do not want to know about how many new clients you brought in at your law firm. Instead, they want to know how you can help them achieve the strategic plan of the business.
Each one of the people that you meet with during this interview process will ask different types of questions. And, each person will want to know different information. All of these people are important in the hiring process and you can presume that they all have the authority to veto you. So, you will need to prepare for each interview with the particular person in mind and their role in the company.
Make a Good Impression
You will also want to make sure that you make the best impression possible at each step of the interview. This means that you should read the job description again. You will want to also review the company website so that you can better understand what they do and what they need this role to do.
Most companies are working geographically dispersed and have been using video platforms (i.e. Zoom, Teams, etc.) to conduct job interviews well before the pandemic. Many companies will also use automated video interview tools to collect and record your answers for their HR systems without having to schedule time with an actual person.
Do not ask to meet with these people in person. Instead, be prepared to complete the interview in whatever way is requested for the role. The ability to adapt and use technology is key to most in-house attorney jobs. So, your ability to use these systems in the interviewing process is also a test of your ability to fit into their expectations.
To make a good impression on a video interview for an in-house counsel position, you will want to dress professionally. This may not mean a suit. Instead, it could be a coat or professional-looking top. Most companies have long since abandoned their business attire dress codes. So, appearing in a suit for an interview (by video or otherwise) can make people think that you are not a fit for their culture.
If on a video, you will also want to sit in an area that looks professional and is without distractions. You should plan to appear on camera during this video interview - even if the interviewer does not. Remember, you are the person being evaluated during the interview.
Questions to Expect
The questions in an in-house attorney interview will vary greatly based on the position you are interviewing for. For example, a corporate counsel job that is focused on commercial contracts will have very different questions than one that focuses on litigation management or regulatory compliance.
Many companies will use a combination of question types in their interviewing process. The first interview will be mostly about your experience and how it meets the requirements of the particular job. You may also see a few behavioral questions in that first interview.
The subsequent interviews in the in-house job interview will be a combination of conversational queries, situational questions, and behavioral questions. You will probably not receive many (if any) questions about particular legal skills. Instead, you will be expected to know the basics and the person interviewing you for the corporate job will be interested in how you apply those legal skills to the business needs.
A few sample questions that you can expect from non-lawyers in the in house counsel job interview are:
- Tell Me About Yourself.
- What Have You Been Working on Lately?
- How Did You Learn About this Role?
- Why Should I Hire You?
- Why Do You Want to Move in-house Now?
- What Do You Know About this Company?
- Describe What You Know About this Role.
- Describe a Time When You Saved Money for Your Clients.
- Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake.
- What is Your Biggest Professional Accomplishment?
- If You Got a Professional Re-do, What Would it Be?
- What Do You Need to Be Successful if You Get this Job?
- How Long will it Take for You to Be Up and Running?
- What Do You See as Our Biggest Challenges?
- How Do You Manage Risk?
- Describe a Time When Your Client Didn't Listen to You.
- Tell Me About a Time You Made a Decision When You Didn't Have all the Information.
- How Do You Know (Name), and if I Called Them, What Would they Say About You?
- What Did You Think About that Game Last Night?
- What Do You Want to Get Out of this Job?
- What is Your Experience on the Business Side?
- How Do You Manage Support Staff?
- Who Else are You Interviewing With?
- What are Your Career Goals?
- How Can You Contribute to our Company Culture?
- Can You Provide Feedback on your Experience as a Candidate?
Make sure that you are maintaining eye contact when providing these answers. Listen to each question carefully and keep your answer to what is actually being asked. Be honest about what you know and what you don't know.
You should also frame your answers to the specific position whenever possible. This can mean providing specific examples in your answer. It can also mean using the research that you did to demonstrate a genuine interest in the position.
Questions to Ask
At some point in each interview, the potential employers will ask you what questions can they answer for you. You must have a list of relevant questions ready for each interview. Your questions can take many forms, but it should not feel like a cross-examination. Instead, it should reflect a genuine interest in the role and provide insights as to your professional goals.
Some effective questions asked by in house counsel candidates are:
Questions About the Job
- Why is this position open?
- Is this a new job, or is it a backfill?
- If a back-fill, where did that person go? Did they progress internally or move on to another company?
Questions About Assignments
- Questions About Assignments
- What are the expected projects for this role in the first 90 days?
- Who does this role report to?
- Will this role have one client in the business? Or, will have the opportunity to work with many business lines or stakeholders across the organization?
- What are the gaps in the current department?
- What are you hoping for most from the person that gets this job?
- Can you provide me with an example of some of the early projects this role will be assigned?
Questions About Performance Management
- How will performance be measured in this position?
- What opportunities will this person have to work with the general counsel?
- Have you been pushed out of your comfort zone here?
Questions About Growth
- What is the opportunity to manage outside counsel in this role?
- What does the typical career path look like for someone in this role?
Questions About Culture
- What do you like about your current position?
- Do you have any reservations about me as a candidate?
- Why have you stayed?
- What do you wish that you knew when you started working at the company?
- How have the current events in the industry impacted the company?
Make sure to give the interviewer the chance to answer each of your questions. You will want to ask the right questions for each interviewer to best assess the opportunity.
You can also incorporate your research in the questions that you ask. Doing this the right way will make you appear smart and well prepared. Keep the research professional and relevant to the in house counsel role and you will not appear like a stalker.
Remember, in some of the interviews, you will be assessing the team as much as they are assessing you. Don't hesitate to ask a follow-up if the questions directly lead to important information or an opportunity to shine.
One of the most common interview questions is that of money. Money matters for all attorney careers. Make sure to do your research to make sure that you understand the compensation structure for the position that you are interviewing for because it will be different.
As your legal career progresses, it can be harder to move in house because of the variances in the compensation. However, most companies do have better benefits than their law firm counterparts.
Most in house counsel jobs have a strong base that falls into a tiered salary structure of the organization. It can be challenging to move up salary bands once you move into the company. So, you will want to enter at the highest salary band or salary tier possible when joining an organization.
These salary structures can also dictate raises once you are in the organization. Some of the salary levels will be bonus eligible and others will not. So, be clear on whether the job that you are interviewing for is eligible for bonus participation.
Right now in the business world, the bonus structures range from 20 - 50% of the base. So, there can be a strong upside for the performance of yourself and the company once in the role.
The companies will also have different structures for PTO, benefits, and professional development. Ask questions about these benefits in the interviewing process as they can make a huge impact on what the overall package really looks like.
Because the benefits and bonuses can vary so much across companies, it is fair to answer the question about what do you want for salary with another question about the salary structure. Your current salary and benefits in the law firm environment really aren't relevant to the conversation about what you want to make in the role in-house.
Instead, you will need to do your research about compensation and be prepared to ask questions in the interview. Your job search takes time. So, spend it wisely by doing your research and asking questions about compensation early in the in house interview to make sure you are headed in the right direction.
Following up on your in house interview is also different. You will want to send an email thanking people for their time right away after the in house interview if possible.
You will also want to follow up with HR at some point to understand exactly what are the next steps could be in the process. You should expect that the in house interview will take more time than the traditional law firm process. So, make sure that you continue to explore all of your options.
Nothing is final in the job search until it is final. This means that the best interview tips are to keep applying, networking, and interviewing elsewhere until you have accepted an offer.
Want to make sure you land that in-house attorney job? Work with a proven legal careers coach to prepare for your big interview. Get Expert Help Now.