In-House Callback with Biz Team?

(Discuss Advantages vs Disadvantages, Making the Switch From Private Practice to In-House, Compensation & Hours, Work-Life balance, In-House Reviews & Experiences)
Anonymous User
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In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Oct 06, 2019 9:05 am

Hi everyone,

Have a callback for an in-house position, and I’ll be meeting with some of the business folks as well. Acknowledging that this is company-dependent to some extent, does anyone have advice on what to expect or how to prepare? Any advice would be much appreciated.

soft blue

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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby soft blue » Sun Oct 06, 2019 5:34 pm

I worked at a Silicon Valley startup at one point that had this when we were doing legal recruiting for a generalist role. I'm loathe to generalize, but the businesspeople seemed to want:

  • Proposing solutions instead of being a roadblock (e.g. "We can't do that" should almost always come with "but we can do this instead.")
  • An interest in both business generally (i.e. a sensitivity to profit & loss, etc -- the more they think you "get how they think" the better), and the particular business.
  • A willigness to self-start, proactively spot problems, and work broadly (i.e. outside whatever your narrow area of practice was). The phrase "an entrepreneur with a law degree" was thrown around a lot.
  • The ability to explain the law to non-lawyers, i.e. both that you can explain it in plain English and you can tell what is and is not relevant for their purposes.
  • A level of risk tolerance, and an ability to describe decisions in terms of trade-offs and risks instead of categorically shutting down any choice that involves a risk.
  • An ability to manage outside vendors (i.e. outside counsel)
  • An understanding that legal is not the #1 concern of the company -- that is to say, the ability to be a subordinate team player (e.g. if you have to run compliance on advertising, etc, you're not telling them how to do their jobs and you're turning comments promptly, not calling a halt to everything if a minor legal issue comes up, etc) and to understand the appropriate amount of resources to use to attack a particular problem.

More generally, we felt that we screened for "legal quality" enough by the time you got to the callback interview. At that point, we were more looking for your ability to take on a hybrid business/law role and work closely with the business team rather than trying to evaluate your legal chops. We really did not want someone we would see as "merely" outside counsel in-house (i.e. a cost-center with no business sense), we wanted someone we felt like was a member of the business team who had legal expertise.

Suspect this is very different at a F500 with an established in house department.

Anonymous User
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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Oct 06, 2019 5:54 pm

soft blue wrote:I worked at a Silicon Valley startup at one point that had this when we were doing legal recruiting for a generalist role. I'm loathe to generalize, but the businesspeople seemed to want:

  • Proposing solutions instead of being a roadblock (e.g. "We can't do that" should almost always come with "but we can do this instead.")
  • An interest in both business generally (i.e. a sensitivity to profit & loss, etc -- the more they think you "get how they think" the better), and the particular business.
  • A willigness to self-start, proactively spot problems, and work broadly (i.e. outside whatever your narrow area of practice was). The phrase "an entrepreneur with a law degree" was thrown around a lot.
  • The ability to explain the law to non-lawyers, i.e. both that you can explain it in plain English and you can tell what is and is not relevant for their purposes.
  • A level of risk tolerance, and an ability to describe decisions in terms of trade-offs and risks instead of categorically shutting down any choice that involves a risk.
  • An ability to manage outside vendors (i.e. outside counsel)
  • An understanding that legal is not the #1 concern of the company -- that is to say, the ability to be a subordinate team player (e.g. if you have to run compliance on advertising, etc, you're not telling them how to do their jobs and you're turning comments promptly, not calling a halt to everything if a minor legal issue comes up, etc) and to understand the appropriate amount of resources to use to attack a particular problem.

More generally, we felt that we screened for "legal quality" enough by the time you got to the callback interview. At that point, we were more looking for your ability to take on a hybrid business/law role and work closely with the business team rather than trying to evaluate your legal chops. We really did not want someone we would see as "merely" outside counsel in-house (i.e. a cost-center with no business sense), we wanted someone we felt like was a member of the business team who had legal expertise.

Suspect this is very different at a F500 with an established in house department.


OP here, thanks for this! Super helpful. A few questions to follow up, if you don't mind:

- in terms of "thinking how they think" if I meet with members who have a particular expertise/department, am I going to be gauged on my knowledge of that specific area/department (to the extent it overlaps with legal)? Understood you said you're not trying to evaluate my "legal" chops, but wondering to what extent they might be trying to measure the "breadth' of my knowledge.

- how did you figure out how whether the applicants checked these boxes? Perhaps they can be determined to some extent through hypos, but quite curious as to how you analyzed an applicant's ability to meet these requirements.

collegewriter

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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby collegewriter » Sun Oct 06, 2019 6:01 pm

I’ll second what the previous poster added. That was very good advice. At my old job we had prospective lawyers interview with the senior business folks. Not sure what industry you are in but they tend to be unwilling to focus on Legal things for any serious length of time. They want someone who can get to the point quickly, be commercial, understand risk, explain things in a clear way, and exercise judgment independently.

They are the ones most likely to put you in an uncomfortable situation day to day and may want to see how you would handle a risk-based decision, where there is a choice between doing something risk-free and making more money but taking additional risk.

soft blue

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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby soft blue » Sun Oct 06, 2019 10:17 pm


- in terms of "thinking how they think" if I meet with members who have a particular expertise/department, am I going to be gauged on my knowledge of that specific area/department (to the extent it overlaps with legal)? Understood you said you're not trying to evaluate my "legal" chops, but wondering to what extent they might be trying to measure the "breadth' of my knowledge.

I doubt it. Unless you're being hired on for a regulatory counsel role, the assumption is that you won't know everything immediately. (e.g. we had a great deal of consumer contract drafting work, but would never expect a candidate to know anything particularly about it.) What's far more important is your ability to rapidly get your feet under you in a variety of new fields. Not entirely sure I understood you, though, would greatly appreciate an example.

- how did you figure out how whether the applicants checked these boxes? Perhaps they can be determined to some extent through hypos, but quite curious as to how you analyzed an applicant's ability to meet these requirements.


Hypos were good -- for example, we had one where an salesperson sued us for $5k in allegedly unpaid commissions and we asked what the applicants would do. The ones who would spend ~$1,000 on outside counsel + take half of a manager's day interviewing them before doing anything else weren't thinking like businesspeople.

More generally, we asked why people thought they'd be good for the role. This is surprisingly revealing, lots of people will say "well I'm great at my firm job" which is totally not what we're looking for.

Very few candidates checked those boxes. The vast majority of candidates failed those tests, very badly. It was obvious when we got a businessperson who happened to have a JD vs. someone who wanted to do their current job, but with fewer hours. Being a generalist counsel at a company is really a fundamentally different job than being a specialized associate in BigLaw.

Also want to note the above poster's comment about exercising judgment independently is dead on. You've gotta be comfortable making legal calls on your own and have a great sense of when a question needs to be kicked upstairs vs. when you can resolve it yourself.

Anonymous User
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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby Anonymous User » Tue Oct 08, 2019 12:11 pm

soft blue wrote:

- in terms of "thinking how they think" if I meet with members who have a particular expertise/department, am I going to be gauged on my knowledge of that specific area/department (to the extent it overlaps with legal)? Understood you said you're not trying to evaluate my "legal" chops, but wondering to what extent they might be trying to measure the "breadth' of my knowledge.

I doubt it. Unless you're being hired on for a regulatory counsel role, the assumption is that you won't know everything immediately. (e.g. we had a great deal of consumer contract drafting work, but would never expect a candidate to know anything particularly about it.) What's far more important is your ability to rapidly get your feet under you in a variety of new fields. Not entirely sure I understood you, though, would greatly appreciate an example.

- how did you figure out how whether the applicants checked these boxes? Perhaps they can be determined to some extent through hypos, but quite curious as to how you analyzed an applicant's ability to meet these requirements.


Hypos were good -- for example, we had one where an salesperson sued us for $5k in allegedly unpaid commissions and we asked what the applicants would do. The ones who would spend ~$1,000 on outside counsel + take half of a manager's day interviewing them before doing anything else weren't thinking like businesspeople.

More generally, we asked why people thought they'd be good for the role. This is surprisingly revealing, lots of people will say "well I'm great at my firm job" which is totally not what we're looking for.

Very few candidates checked those boxes. The vast majority of candidates failed those tests, very badly. It was obvious when we got a businessperson who happened to have a JD vs. someone who wanted to do their current job, but with fewer hours. Being a generalist counsel at a company is really a fundamentally different job than being a specialized associate in BigLaw.

Also want to note the above poster's comment about exercising judgment independently is dead on. You've gotta be comfortable making legal calls on your own and have a great sense of when a question needs to be kicked upstairs vs. when you can resolve it yourself.


Apologies for the late reply, and thanks so much for these responses. Would be grateful for any and all advice you could give on the below:

"Not entirely sure I understood you, though, would greatly appreciate an example."

I'd imagine an applicable example would be an in-house counsel role for a tech company where an applicant would meet with the coding team (or something similar); i.e., specific enough that there's likely no way I'd have that experience in a firm, and distinct enough from a legal role that I (hopefully) wouldn't be expected to either. In such a situation is the interview more of a personality fit? Or am I trying to pitch how my experiences could (somewhat, somehow) enable me to help them out in some sort of supporting role?

"This is surprisingly revealing, lots of people will say "well I'm great at my firm job" which is totally not what we're looking for.Very few candidates checked those boxes. The vast majority of candidates failed those tests, very badly. It was obvious when we got a businessperson who happened to have a JD vs. someone who wanted to do their current job, but with fewer hours. Being a generalist counsel at a company is really a fundamentally different job than being a specialized associate in BigLaw."

Especially curious about this item. I certainly don't mind (and in fact expect to) work the same/similar amount of hours is this role, but as a K-JD, I don't have other experience, business or otherwise (though would be open to getting an MBA). What specific characteristics would you look for/how might I best present myself to appear more prepared to be a generalist counsel as opposed to a biglaw associate?

"comment about exercising judgment independently is dead on. You've gotta be comfortable making legal calls on your own and have a great sense of when a question needs to be kicked upstairs vs. when you can resolve it yourself"

For someone relatively junior, how would you propose they tackle this? I've had fairly significant responsibility, but while I make many minor calls on my own, I still kick most of them up to the partner just as an FYI or for approval.

soft blue

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Re: In-House Callback with Biz Team?

Postby soft blue » Tue Oct 08, 2019 1:29 pm

Coding example

I would say it's a mix of personality and business-sense. I can't imagine that a senior coder would quiz you on, like, the copyrightability of code or whatever.

Generalist counsel

As a generalist counsel, your job isn't to know everything perfectly. Instead, your job is more like:

  • Taking a first stab at most legal issues and seeing if you can solve/resolve them yourself. (You should absolutely try to get PracticalLaw or a similar precedent database.)
  • Determining how much effort / $$$ a particular
  • Translating the law for non-lawyers.
  • Setting up effective prophylactic measure that reduce risk, don't harm the business, and are pain-free/seamless.
  • Being as painless to work with as possible -- clearly laying out possible options & associated risks/considerations, rather than having a meandering conversation about an issue that takes 3x as long and doesn't reach a conclusion.
  • Trying to solve legal problems in a way that works both for legal and the business more broadly.
  • When you've decided to retain outside counsel, managing their costs.
  • Exercising legal judgment (do we settle this claim? Do we go forward? How much risk do we accept in this contract?)

decision-making

As a general rule, people really love the in-house counsel when they don't see them. Every interaction with you is an interaction that isn't being used on making money!

To that end you should figure out what you should decide yourself (it's a very obvious choice), what needs to be decided ASAP, what should be brought up at the next meeting, etc. (You'll see from the company and people you're talking to who needs what. Maybe it's a dollar threshold, maybe it's a certain issue, whatever.) A constant barrage of emails from the in-house over trivial decisions isn't good. Further, you shouldn't come in by just saying, "Here's a situation, what do we do?" Presenting a clear choice is super valuable. In general, the more you feel like a smart colleague who's taking care of his own stuff and not wasting your time / the less you feel like someone who needs approval for everything and can't do anything without cc'ing several people, the better.

But this also places you in a different role -- ultimately, you are the only one there with legal judgment. You can't kick up a legal question for approval, because you are "up" (unless you've hired outside counsel!).



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