Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

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Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby Anonymous User » Fri Nov 02, 2018 10:31 am

Hi all,

I have an interview pending and wanted to know what questions I can expect and how should I address them. For what its worth, I am a third-year at a large law firm and the position is not entry-level.

Many thanks in advance.

jhett

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby jhett » Fri Nov 02, 2018 1:38 pm

Generally, they want to see if you know their company and their industry, how your experience lines up with their needs, and recognize that your role as in-house counsel is different than outside counsel. So, for example:
- Why are you interested in our company in particular?
- How does your experience help the company achieve [goal X]?
- Where do you see the company heading in the future? What do you see as our challenges?
- What would look for when working with outside counsel?
- How do you manage your time and your work?
- How would you approach various stakeholders (e.g., executives, business folks, internal corporate departments) to work together?

albanach

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby albanach » Fri Nov 02, 2018 1:46 pm

Do not, under any circumstances, give the appearance that you'd like an in-house gig because it's less stressful than bigaw or that you'll work fewer hours.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby eastcoast_iub » Fri Nov 02, 2018 3:04 pm

albanach wrote:Do not, under any circumstances, give the appearance that you'd like an in-house gig because it's less stressful than bigaw or that you'll work fewer hours.


In other words, don’t tell the truth. I understand why you don’t want to say this in an interview, but isn’t this why everyone goes in-house?

What are acceptable reasons one would give for going in-house? B/c it’s hard me for me to think of others.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby jhett » Fri Nov 02, 2018 3:39 pm

eastcoast_iub wrote:In other words, don’t tell the truth. I understand why you don’t want to say this in an interview, but isn’t this why everyone goes in-house?

What are acceptable reasons one would give for going in-house? B/c it’s hard me for me to think of others.


To work in an industry that you are interested in, to deepen your legal skills/experience in a specific industry, to participate more directly in the business side, to gain experience outside of your specific practice group (e.g., when your law firm practice is narrow and you want to handle other types of matters), etc. There are a lot of reasons to go in-house.

In my experience, most interviewers actually bring up the hours thing. They usually say something like "Well, bet you'll like the hours better here." I just nod and say that's true. It's a well-understood reason that everyone knows, so there's no benefit for you to bring it up unprompted.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby albanach » Mon Nov 05, 2018 10:59 am

jhett wrote:In my experience, most interviewers actually bring up the hours thing. They usually say something like "Well, bet you'll like the hours better here." I just nod and say that's true. It's a well-understood reason that everyone knows, so there's no benefit for you to bring it up unprompted.


Yes, if the lawyers themselves bring up quality of life as a positive, that's great. What you don't want to do is come across as wanting to be in-house so you don't have to work as hard.

There's every chance you could raise hours in an interview where the person interviewing you had a client deadline that morning and was working into the small hours. Or, perhaps like many in-house lawyers, they were on call and took several phone calls in the middle of the night, then had to come in early to write up a report for the CLO.

It seems easy to bring up because, for the most part, people will see an improved quality of life working in-house, but there's a real danger that it could be taken the wrong way by an interviewer who wasn't enjoying those benefits in the week of your interview. More so because, if they're hiring, there's every chance the legal department is currently understaffed.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby nealric » Mon Nov 05, 2018 2:51 pm

albanach wrote:Do not, under any circumstances, give the appearance that you'd like an in-house gig because it's less stressful than bigaw or that you'll work fewer hours.


Not necessarily. I've interviewed candidates for in-house positions. If someone is coming from biglaw, we WANT the reason to be that they are looking to lessen the stress and have more sane hours. The alternative might be that they are being pushed out of the firm or don't get along with people.

Also, show me an in-house legal department that works biglaw hours, and I will show you a mismanaged legal department.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby albanach » Mon Nov 05, 2018 4:11 pm

nealric wrote:
albanach wrote:Do not, under any circumstances, give the appearance that you'd like an in-house gig because it's less stressful than bigaw or that you'll work fewer hours.


Not necessarily. I've interviewed candidates for in-house positions. If someone is coming from biglaw, we WANT the reason to be that they are looking to lessen the stress and have more sane hours. The alternative might be that they are being pushed out of the firm or don't get along with people.


As was pointed out above, there's ways to talk about it without risking the perception that you don't want to work hard.

Frankly, I think we have lots of other selling points besides the hours. For example not having to find clients. Not having to track your work to the 6 minute interval. Not having targets based on hours worked, whether or not they delivered value to anyone.

nealric wrote:Also, show me an in-house legal department that works biglaw hours, and I will show you a mismanaged legal department.


You're mismanaged if you're under-budgeted? Maybe, but most in-house departments are treated as a cost center after all.

You're mismanaged if you lose a couple of staff and others have had to pick up the workload for six months? That happens everywhere and may well be why you find yourself being interviewed.

You're mismanaged if there's a black-swan event or your company is in the middle of a major acquisition? Again, this is common and if you're a large in-house department you might be handling a great deal of this work internally.

There's a host of reasons that could have in-house counsel working big-law style hours that have little or nothing to do with law-department management.

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Re: Typical Questions in an In-House Counsel Interview

Postby nealric » Mon Nov 05, 2018 5:28 pm

albanach wrote:
nealric wrote:
albanach wrote:Do not, under any circumstances, give the appearance that you'd like an in-house gig because it's less stressful than bigaw or that you'll work fewer hours.


Not necessarily. I've interviewed candidates for in-house positions. If someone is coming from biglaw, we WANT the reason to be that they are looking to lessen the stress and have more sane hours. The alternative might be that they are being pushed out of the firm or don't get along with people.


As was pointed out above, there's ways to talk about it without risking the perception that you don't want to work hard.

Frankly, I think we have lots of other selling points besides the hours. For example not having to find clients. Not having to track your work to the 6 minute interval. Not having targets based on hours worked, whether or not they delivered value to anyone.

nealric wrote:Also, show me an in-house legal department that works biglaw hours, and I will show you a mismanaged legal department.


You're mismanaged if you're under-budgeted? Maybe, but most in-house departments are treated as a cost center after all.

You're mismanaged if you lose a couple of staff and others have had to pick up the workload for six months? That happens everywhere and may well be why you find yourself being interviewed.

You're mismanaged if there's a black-swan event or your company is in the middle of a major acquisition? Again, this is common and if you're a large in-house department you might be handling a great deal of this work internally.

There's a host of reasons that could have in-house counsel working big-law style hours that have little or nothing to do with law-department management.


I agree that there are other selling points besides hours, but I think hours are the REAL reason people tend to be interested in in-house positions. No point in playing charades about it. Of course we don't want lazy people, but truly lazy people rarely make it long enough in biglaw to be up for consideration for in-house jobs in the first place.

As far as mismanagement... There's no question that even in-house departments have crunch times. Big deals close, cases go to trial, people leave, etc. But the entire legal department consistently working biglaw hours shouldn't be the norm absent unusual events. Mismanagement can come from different levels- if the legal department is chronically understaffed, someone is doing something wrong during the corporate budgeting processes.

I have also noticed, however, that long hours can be a culture problem. Legal work has a funny way of expanding or contracting to fill the time allotted to it. If you have a GC that expects everyone to be in the office at 7AM sharp or still be there at 7PM, that's going to cause a lot of unnecessary time at the office for those with schedules that don't dovetail with that expectation. If you have a good GC that trusts people to be adults and get their work done, you will have a much better environment.

Finally, I realize I never really answered the OPs question: I think it will vary from company to company. My company does an HR interview, where you will get a bunch of canned questions that are mostly an exercise in ticking boxes for qualifications (based on the ones listed by the hiring manager). Then, you will interview with the hiring manager (usually the person that will be your boss if you are hired). That person isn't a trained interviewer, so their style will vary- not unlike biglaw interviewing. Personally, I mostly try to ask questions that will determine what their true experience level is by asking them detailed questions about matters they've worked on and specific tasks completed, as well as general "getting to know you" questions. There maybe folks out there who do a direct technical grilling, but I think they are the exception.



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