• February 2020
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5 Essential Questions To Ask When Hiring a General Counsel Or In-House Attorney

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Hiring a general counsel is an important step in the growth of your business. The general counsel will serve a variety of roles in the company. She will be the internal legal advisor for any company activity that must comply with laws. She will manage any legal issues affecting the company and serve as the point of contact for third parties concerning legal issues. Lastly, she will provide numerous legal services to the company. Understanding these duties, it is important to keep these core functions in mind when developing questions to ask during the interview and hiring process. The five most essential questions to ask a potential general counsel are as follows:

Why do you want to work here?
How do your experience or skills make you the right person for the job?
How will you deal with a legal issue that you do not fully understand?
How would other people describe you and why?
What motivates you and why?

Each of these questions is strategically designed to uncover specific information about the applicant. Below we visit each of these questions and the reasoning behind asking them.

Why Do You Want to Work Here?

This is a common question for any new hire. The employer needs to understand why an applicant wants to work at the company and what are her future intentions. The interviewer can tell a great deal about how serious or vested the individual is in working at the company. Any applicant should prepare thorough for the interview by knowing a great deal about the company. An individual who cannot provide a detailed answer based upon the specifics of the company (operations, structure, leadership, etc.) is not prepared. This can be a red flag, particularly for a general counsel who will a large amount of time researching nuanced aspects of company operations.

You may follow up with the question, “what do you expect of this job?” This follow-up question will help you understand whether the general counsel expects or would be happy with the conditions of work. The interviewer will understand the operational and structural aspects of the company. If the applicant has some level of misunderstanding of what will be expected of her (or what her average day will look like) then this needs to be illuminated at the outset.

How Do Your Experience or Skills Make You the Right Fit for the Job?

A general counsel needs a wide range of legal knowledge. She will be advising the company on all sorts of internal legal matters as well as providing specific legal services to the firm. The areas where a typical general counsel will need to be proficient include:

Research & Writing – No attorney knows everything about the law. In fact, it’s not even close. This is particularly true for a general counsel. Often a general counsel is a generalist, perhaps with some level of expertise in a specific area of law. This is important, as the general counsel is charged with spotting potential legal issues as they arise. This requires a very wide depth of knowledge. As such, she will need to make herself familiar with or competent to address legal issues as they arise. This will require a strong ability to research the applicable law. Further, the general counsel must be a strong writer. She needs to be able to translate difficult or complex concepts into easily understandable formats. That is, she will have to transcribe her understanding of the legal subject into explanatory memos and instructional guides for non-legal professionals to use in carrying out their duties in the company.

Regulatory Compliance – All industries are subject to some degree of regulations. The general counsel should demonstrate a general awareness of the regulatory regime applicable to a specific line of business.
Corporate Governance – All business entities are required to comply with some level of internal governance. Corporations have a more complex governance structure that most other entity forms. Reporting companies or public companies are subject to extensive corporate governance requirements.

Employment Laws – Employers are required to comply with numerous employment-related regulations, such as disclosure of rights, employee training, etc. Further, employees must be instructed on the applicable employment discrimination laws. Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination based upon race, color, gender, ethnicity, national original, health or disability, age, genetic makeup, and other factors.

Contracts – In-house counsel will need to review and draft company contracts for goods or services.

Claims & Collections – Companies that sell goods and services or extend credit will have issues with non-payment. The general counsel is the point of contact for legal questions involving claims. If the company finds itself involved in any form of litigation, the general counsel will manage the litigation process and report the status to company owners.
Taxation – The general counsel will work with the accountants to make determinations of how taxes will impact operational aspects (e.g., business deals).

The applicant will need to explain her ability to address these legal issues when expressing how she will create value for the employer and comply with internal governance.

How Will You Deal With a Legal Issue That You Don’t Fully Understand?

As discussed, a general counsel must be able to take a logical and strategic approach to novel issues. She must be able to provide an explanation of her approach to addressing any such issue. The explanation should generally involve:
Researching the topic; employing her external network to become familiar with the issues; and hiring outside counsel when a level of expertise is necessary. Remember, the general counsel will be the point of contact for dealing with outsiders.

How Would Other People Describe You and Why?

Fit within a company is perhaps the most important factor for whether an employee will be successful. How a person describes themselves through the eyes of others should tell you a lot about their personality and self perception. This question will require some clarification. Identify some people who would know interesting aspects about the person, such as a father or mother, professor, prior boss, prior colleague, friend, someone who just met you. The applicant should be able to provide some real examples of why these people hold their opinions.

What Motivates You and Why?

Research shows that an engaged employee is far more productive and effective in her position. Being engaged is directly related to personal motivations related to needs or wants that the job provides fulfills. Companies often default to a level of compensation to motivate an employee. This is only successful with a select group of employees. Understanding what motivates an employee will allow the company to structure incentives (such as: title, compensation, recognition for work, autonomy, team or individual environment, type of work, hours of work, location, healthcare benefits, daycare, vacation, location, etc.)

LawTrades Can Help

LawTrades can help you identify an attorney to hire. Why not let LawTrades serve as your general counsel? We have a network of attorneys with the expertise to meet all of your legal matters.