Differentiating to Get That in-House Legal Job

July 23, 2021

After five year’s practice in a mid-sized law firm, you’ve decided to pursue a position in a corporate legal department.  Your technical skill set and educational background has propelled you past the first round of interviews with the legal recruiter.  In preparing for the next round of in-person interviews with the hiring manager, how can you differentiate and improve your chances to land that dream in-house legal job.

As headhunters specializing in recruiting lawyers,  The Counsel Network participates in countless candidate interviews each year. We’ve witnessed first-hand a number of factors in the selection process that will determine whether a candidate is successful, or not.

Moving for the right reason?

Employers always want to understand why a candidate wants to move in-house, and inevitably will ask this question. They hope to see that the candidate has a thorough grasp of general in-house practice, how the employer’s organization fits into the market, and how a lawyer fits into the organization.  Arrive prepared with questions about the structure of the legal department, the day-to-day nature of the work, the reporting lines and opportunities for career progression.

Avoid any focus on the negative aspects of private practice.  This can often leave the impression that the lawyer is merely looking to an in-house job as an escape rather than a career choice.

Moving to the right place?

Hiring managers are usually looking for signs that the candidate’s level of independence and risk tolerance matches that of the organization’s. For example, relatively few in-house employers have the resources (or other lawyers) available to provide high levels of mentorship. As a result, successful candidates tend to be those who seem most comfortable working with relatively little guidance, but who also seek help when they are operating outside of their area of expertise.

When it comes to risk tolerance, a process-oriented lawyer who always errs on the side of caution when advising on areas of law that are open to interpretation will be more effective in an organization that matches this tolerance level. However, the same lawyer will struggle in an organization that takes a more aggressive approach to the same issues.

Start-ups might be the place for lawyers willing to take the risk associated with an uncertain, but potentially very successful future. Lawyers who prefer a more stable and predictable career path are likely to be a better fit in a larger, well established organization.

Joining a corporate legal department brings a range of options for the lawyer looking to move in-house.  From the size of the hiring organization to the industry sector in which it operates, finding the right private company or corporate organization is critical to your success in the role.  It is worth being aware of those characteristics that could differentiate and better position you for the in-house opportunity.

Sameera Sereda is the Managing Partner and Chair, In-House Counsel Division at The Counsel Network, a Canadian legal recruitment firm specializing in legal talent management strategies covering all levels of lawyers and practices for both corporate legal departments and law firms. Sameera can be reached at ssereda@thecounselnetwork.com or 403.444.1763.


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