How to prepare for in-house counsel interviews

8 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Deciding to pursue in-house counsel roles can be a wise move for legal professionals looking for a rewarding career path. Working within an organisation’s in-house legal department offers an array of significant benefits: being involved in a varied range of legal projects, the possibility of a healthier work-life balance, and the opportunity to work alongside the business’ management teams. 

However, given that the number of aspiring in-house Lawyers is growing, it is imperative for candidates to go above and beyond to develop a competitive advantage over rival candidates. There are many strategies candidates can adopt to stand out from the crowd, from writing a compelling application to gaining an impressive amount of work experience, but one method of preparation is guaranteed to win over Hiring Managers — developing your interview skills. 

In this guide, we’ll examine why interview preparation is important for in-house legal candidates and explore the best practices for ensuring exceptional interview performance. 

Why interview preparation is key for in-house legal professionals 

With forecasts showing that the in-house legal job market will remain robust in 2024, now is a better time than ever to transition into in-house counsel. For ambitious legal professionals seeking more flexible working arrangements, more progressional opportunities, and a varied selection of legal work, pursuing in-house law jobs presents a perfect opportunity to elevate their careers. However, with this professional route rising in popularity, candidates must work diligently to ensure that they gain an edge over the growing competition.

While possessing significant work experience and outstanding academic achievements is likely to pique the interest of potential employers, your performance at job interviews will be a decisive factor in whether you are successful in landing the position. Developing and perfecting your interview skills will help you to stand out from other top candidates, effectively communicate your accomplishments and unique skills, and showcase your suitability for the role.

While this guide focuses on interview preparation, our How to break into in-house legal jobs delves into everything you need to know if you wish to pursue a career in the world of in-house legal counsel.

Our top tips for in-house counsel interview preparation 

Effectively articulating your strengths, demonstrating examples of your legal successes, and displaying the perfect balance of legal expertise and business acumen are essential at the interview stage. Attracting the attention of your potential employer with a detailed CV and cover letter is undoubtedly important, but impressing them at an in-person or video interview is more likely to leave a lasting impression. 

This begs a key question for ambitious legal professionals who set their sights on an in-house law career: What are the best practices for delivering an exceptional in-house legal counsel interview performance? 

1. Thoroughly research the organisation and the role

A general rule of thumb for any job interview is to conduct in-depth research into the company and position before participating in the interview. However, this routine preparation activity is an absolute necessity for jobs in the in-house legal space that require post-holders to possess a keen eye for detail. Without a firm grasp of the company’s business goals and brand identity, how can you expect to prove that you are an ideal cultural and professional fit? 

It’s well known that employers pay little attention to candidates who fail to display any knowledge of the organisation. Getting to grips with the requirements, skills, and experience needed for the role is also pivotal, as this will demonstrate that you have a coherent understanding of what will be expected of you should your application be successful. 

Here are the best practices for conducting research into the company and role you wish to apply for: 

  • Explore the company’s website: You can begin by taking a look at the organisation’s website, paying particular attention to any sections relevant to law and compliance. Ideally, there will be an abundance of corporate governance documentation and press releases that provide an insight into their legal obligations. 
  • Review the legal department’s structure and priorities: Another fundamental part of doing your due diligence is learning more about the legal department’s makeup and top priorities. Start by looking into the size and composition of the team—this will give you an idea of how you will fit into the departmental structure. Looking into the recent legal issues and challenges the firm has faced will also help you understand its key priorities. 

 You could also take a look at who these people are on LinkedIn, and what they’re talking about. You might find some useful and insightful information that will help you at interview stage.

  • Research regulations relevant to the firm’s industry: In-house Lawyers must understand the firm’s industry and regulatory obligations. The regulatory landscape varies dramatically from industry to industry, so researching the laws, regulations, and compliance standards that impact the company is a key part of interview preparation. 
  • Check out legal directories and databases: Exploring legal directories for databases like Lexis can help you learn more about the firm’s reputation within the legal community. Legal directors will typically tell you if the business has received any praise or recognition for its legal work. 
  • Pay close attention to the job spec: A cursory glance at the job’s basic requirements won’t be enough to thoroughly understand the specifications. Instead, you must dedicate significant time and effort to learning the job spec inside and out, developing an excellent knowledge of the duties you’ll be expected to perform, the relevant skills you must possess, and how the role aligns with the organisation’s overarching goals. 

With detailed knowledge of the business and position, you’ll be well-equipped to showcase your understanding of the firm’s legal needs and how you can contribute to them at your interview. Reading up on the company will also help you come up with incisive questions for your interviewer - an area that we will explore in greater detail later. 

2. Rehearse answers to common behavioural interview questions 

Rehearsing for a job interview is an effective preparation technique and its importance cannot be understated. Practising your answers to common in-house interview questions will give you a confidence boost as well as help to solidify your knowledge of the company and the role and enhance your ability to handle tough questions. While many of the questions will be centred on your personality and your reason for becoming a Lawyer, it is essential to prepare for behavioural questions. 

Behavioural questions allow interviews to evaluate your problem-solving skills, ability to work under pressure, and how you handle complex legal challenges. Be sure to get together with a friend or colleague to go over some of the most typical behaviour-based questions interviewers may ask to assess your legal ability, such as: 

  • Please describe a complex legal issue you encountered in a previous role. What was your approach, and how did your actions impact the outcome? 
  • Have you ever had to balance multiple legal projects at the same time? How did you manage your time effectively? 
  • How would you keep informed about the latest changes and developments in regulations that may affect our business?
  • Have you ever had to handle a legal dispute on a firm’s behalf? How did you approach and deal with the situation? 
  • What would you say are the key qualities an in-house Lawyer at our organisation should possess? 

By consistently rehearsing your answers to these key questions, you’ll be well-prepared to provide concise, illuminating answers that shed light on your strengths and achievements. Ensuring that your answers have a coherent structure is key when answering behavioural questions. The STAR method, standing for Situation, Task, Action, and Result, provides a particularly handy way to structure your answers. 

Here is a breakdown of what each of these words refer to: 

  • Situation: Begin by contextualising your answer. Describe the finer details of your situation, ensuring that your communication style is clear and concise. 
  • Task: Explain the goal or task you were presented with. Be sure to consider the objectives you were trying to achieve and what was expected of you. 
  • Action: Detail the actions you took to achieve your aims. Take care to highlight your unique contributions, specifically details about what you did and why you elected to follow that particular course of action.  
  • Result: Finally, you should delve into the consequences of your actions. At this stage, you can tell the interviewer all about the results of your efforts and share any relevant evidence that supports your claims. 

3. Prepare a list of questions for your interviewer 

Ensuring that you are able to provide answers that showcase your skills and experience is vital when interviewing for in-house law jobs. However, communicating your legal knowledge and solid examples of your prior accomplishments are not the only factors that signify whether you are a suitable candidate. Preparing a list of questions for your interviewer is a must to make yourself stand out from the other applicants. 

So-called “candidates’ questions” are a key aspect of interviews in all sectors, but they take on greater significance in the world of in-house counsel interviews. Interviewers will be looking for a number of professional traits that indicate a candidate’s competency, such as interpersonal skills, ability to ascertain important information, and ability to deal with a high level of detail within a short window of time. 

Their ability to ask pertinent, insightful questions will demonstrate give them an ideal opportunity to showcase all three of these professional characteristics. In this vein, it is imperative that you prepare a selection of questions for your interviewers. This will demonstrate your interest and preparedness for the role and give you a chance to build up a rapport with your potential employer, gather key information, and flaunt your strategic thinking abilities. 

Examples of the kind of questions you could ask include: 

  • What are the most important legal challenges your business currently faces? 
  • How is the in-house legal department structured within your organisation? How big is the team? 
  • What is the department’s relationship with other teams, such as sales or marketing? 
  • What are the long-term goals of the in-house legal department? And how will my efforts contribute to them? 
  • How often would I be in contact with your company’s key stakeholders? 

Although the questions you ask should be unique and relevant to the specific organisation you’re applying for; these open-ended questions should give you an idea of what your interviewer will be looking for. Make sure you tailor your questions to the details you have learned about the firm during your extensive research, as this will emphasise your understanding of the firm and interest in discovering more. 

In addition, asking open-ended questions will encourage your interviewer to give comprehensive responses, thereby enhancing your own knowledge of the company and the position. 

4. Highlight business acumen and interpersonal style

First and foremost, your interviewer will evaluate you based on your legal skills and experience, whether in private practice or within another organisation’s in-house legal department. However, highlighting your business acumen and soft skills can demonstrate to potential employers that you represent the complete package - not only are you a high-quality legal professional, but you also have the requisite commercial awareness and interpersonal qualities to flourish within an in-house counsel role. 

Here are the skills that can indicate a candidate’s business acumen: 

  • Negotiation skills: Negotiation is a valuable attribute for Lawyers that isn’t necessarily taught at law school. Knowing how to negotiate effectively is a necessity for in-house legal professionals, especially when performing tasks like contract negotiation, drafting settlement agreements, and conducting business transactions. 
  • Critical thinking: In-house legal professionals don’t merely carry out legal duties; they are also expected to utilise their critical thinking skills to resolve business problems. They regularly have to manage complex legal issues that demand both expert knowledge of the relevant laws and an awareness of which business strategies can be used to manage them. 
  • Delegation: Many legal professionals are used to working independently, particularly if they have a background in private practice. However, working within an in-house legal department requires team collaboration, so knowing when to delegate is extremely important. Business professionals understand the value of delegation, which is a skill that aspiring in-house Lawyers must develop.  
  • Project management: Project management is a crucial business-related skill that most legal professionals excel in. Working on a variety of legal projects forces Lawyers to learn effective time management strategies, which lends itself very well to project management. Successful in-house Lawyers know how to deliver a project on time, in accordance with budgetary requirements, and in accordance with customer expectations. 
  • Financial awareness: Astute financial knowledge is a typical trait among business professionals. Given that in-house Lawyers are routinely required to blend their specialist legal knowledge with commercial awareness, developing an understanding of financial concepts is a much-needed skill for thriving within in-house counsel. 

Displaying these cutting-edge business skills at your job interview is an effective way to show your potential employer that you are capable of leveraging your legal expertise to contribute to the firm's overall business goals. But without a confident, approachable interpersonal style, it will be difficult to communicate your legal expertise and commercial acumen. 

Soft skills are the bedrock of what makes a top-quality in-house Lawyer; highlighting these at your interview is paramount. According to research, legal candidates have a mere seven seconds to make a good first impression at job interviews, and that’s why possessing outstanding interpersonal qualities can be decisive. Relevant soft skills include: 

  • The ability to build rapport with colleagues, executives, and clients 
  • Written and verbal communication for explaining complicated legal concepts to individuals without a legal background 
  • A deep knowledge of conflict resolution techniques for mediating disputes and ensuring constructive dialogue between rival parties
  • Persuasion skills that may be used for gaining support for business proposals or convincing stakeholders to adopt certain legal strategies
  • Adaptability to remain resilient in the face of fast-paced, ever-evolving legal challenges 

Our key takeaways from preparing for in-house counsel interviews 

Navigating the competitive in-house counsel job market can be difficult, and landing career opportunities within this field require extensive preparation. 

As the demand for in-house counsel continues to rise, candidates must strive to differentiate themselves by developing and perfecting interview skills that showcase their expertise, experience, and compatibility with the organisation's workplace culture and overarching goals. 

Thorough research into the company and role, rehearsing answers to common behavioural questions, and preparing insightful queries for interviewers are essential steps to ensure readiness and confidence in the interview room. Additionally, showcasing both legal prowess and business acumen, coupled with strong interpersonal skills, can leave a lasting impression on hiring managers.

The nature of in-house legal recruitment continues to evolve at pace, and while the future of this fascinating career path remains subject to change, one thing is for certain - adept interview skills can be instrumental in securing sought-after in-house law jobs. 

Experts in legal recruitment 

As one of the UK’s leading legal recruitment agencies, we are passionate about placing top talent into in-house law jobs. Boasting years of experience, our consultants take pride in helping legal professionals secure roles that will elevate their careers. Whether you are an ambitious graduate at the start of your legal career or a seasoned in-house Lawyer, we can find you roles that perfectly align with your career goals and unique skills. 

Get in touch with us today to discover more about our market-leading recruitment solutions.