The role of in-house lawyer requires a broad skill set with significant emphasis on commercial acumen. Competence in black-letter law is simply not enough. The in-house job market can be highly competitive and each role unique so, as you prepare for your interview, it’s essential to equip yourself with an understanding that will distinguish you as a highly desirable candidate.
Employers want to know why their company and role is of interest to you. First, and most importantly, do your research. Familiarise yourself with the company, what it does, its USP, its target audience and market position, and be able to explain why it interests you as an employer. Consider the challenges the legal team might be required to address and how they might be linked to the role, be they corporate M&A, JVs, capital raisings, procurement, outsourcing, litigation, HR or data protection.
Explore their company website, social media activity, annual reports, press releases, and news articles to ensure you understand the company, its market position, performance, values and objectives. Then consider your strengths and what technical and soft skills you can bring to the role. How does your experience best equip you? Doing this will equip you to answer interview questions about your interest in and appropriateness for the business. Ensure you are able to articulate what you are not getting from your current role and the reason you want to move.
Ask your recruiter for advice on the anticipated interview format and research your interviewers. There’s no need to go full detective, but being familiar with the professional backgrounds of those you are meeting can help you ask more substantive, relevant questions, directing them to the right people, and ensuring you approach the interview with confidence.
Employers will be looking to see that you can adapt to their environment – especially when you are moving directly from a law firm – and that you will win the confidence of stakeholders across the business. Be ready to show that you can work under pressure in a potentially less structured environment than a law firm, providing sound commercial judgement, backing your decisions, problem solving and thinking outside the box.
Think not just in terms of legal but commercial and customer impact. Having an appreciation of the company’s business model, their objectives, and how the legal department can help facilitate these goals shows your commitment to the role. Be clear, purposeful and succinct, clients want to see that you can get straight to the point.
Be the person everyone wants on their team
Consider the stakeholders with whom you will have most interaction, be they the board, compliance, sales, marketing, procurement or HR departments, and what they might be looking for in terms of legal support. If working closely with compliance, for example, highlight experience you have in interpreting, implementing and monitoring relevant laws and regulations, and discuss how you’ve mitigated legal risks to ensure adherence to industry standards, or would do so.
Working in a business environment and with cross-functional teams demands strong communication and collaboration skills, so prepare anecdotes that showcase your effectiveness as a team player.
There will likely be areas in the job description you haven’t covered, especially if this is your first in-house role. Don’t fear this. Establish credibility by focusing on your strengths first, then be upfront about novel areas and convey your enthusiasm to learn and embrace new challenges. Provide examples of your past experiences developing new expertise and facing challenges to demonstrate to your interviewers that you have a positive, problem-solving attitude. Companies value lawyers who can adapt to change to align with the company’s objectives.
Working in-house presents unique legal challenges requiring creative problem-solving. Showcase these skills and prepare for behavioural (competency) interview questions by identifying past professional situations in which you have overcome relevant hurdles and be ready to discuss them, their context, the results of your actions, and what you learned.
If the questions are hypothetical, imagine working in the interviewing company and convey how you would typically approach the scenario. Be authentic, let them see the real you and try to connect with people in the room on a personal level.
Close out your interview by reiterating your genuine interest in, and appreciation for, the opportunity. Demonstrate that you have considered the role thoughtfully with insightful questions that illustrate your understanding. Enquire about the company’s legal department structure, relevant challenges the business might face over the next 12 months, opportunities for personal growth, and ask what they enjoy about working there. Find out why the position is open and explore the level of interface with the wider business.
Leave practical queries such as compensation, benefits and hours to your recruiter or for later in the process, so that your focus in the interview is on the function and purpose of the role and, above all, what you can bring to it. Good luck in your interview!