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Interviewing General Counsel - Twelve Essential Questions to Ask


After reviewing readership of BarkerGilmore blogs, I discovered that the piece “Recruiting General Counsel: 5 Essential Questions to Ask” was still receiving significant attention. Having written this article in 2014, I realized that the questions were out of date and did not reveal the strategic, business-minded qualities that are in highest demand today. General Counsel today require leadership, judgment, and ethics, and must also be pragmatic. With that in mind, I am sharing a sample of the important assessment questions you should be asking GC candidates today.

  1. What are the top three factors you attribute to your success?
    The answer to this question can determine whether a person is truly a team player. The response should lead off with the people who helped elevate the candidate to their current level, such as good mentors, top talent on their team, or key relationships they’ve developed. People who attribute their success exclusively to their own actions and abilities are typically not good team players.

  2. Describe your relationship with the executive team and with the Board. How has your role changed and what unique talents do you bring to the group?
    The candidate should have clear responsibilities and direct interaction with the executive team and the board. For most GCs today, their role has expanded outside of legal. A sure sign that a GC has earned the trust and respect of the executive team is an answer that includes high-level or expanded responsibilities and reporting structure. 
  1. What are the three biggest challenges that you are facing right now in your business?
    Comparing the answer to this question from one candidate to the next will provide the interviewer an idea of the complexity of situations that are being handled. What one candidate views as a challenge might be a normal course of business to another. An effective way to assess their ability to think on their feet is to then explain your organization’s biggest challenges and see how they respond.
  1. How are you developing your current talent to meet challenges both today and in the future?
    Top GCs place an emphasis on developing and motivating the people on their team. Listen for a hiring process that attracts the most qualified talent, a training process that results in continued growth, and a method for measuring personal and team effectiveness with the business.
  1. Tell me about a time when you and your team significantly raised the bar and exceeded expectations.
    Leaders who think outside the box devise strategy to address issues and achieve business goals. The best candidates will discuss a situation where a unique solution was devised, and the team was motivated to work outside of the normal course of business. The answer will reveal the GC’s ability to be business-minded and will uncover their leadership abilities.
  1. Talk to me about accountability. What happens when people fail to perform?
    Great leaders hold people accountable and have systems in place to measure performance. Having defined metrics, personal evaluation measurement tools, and a formal process to address underachievement are critical.
  1. How have you helped to control costs or reduce outside spending in the law department? For what matters do you rely on outside counsel?
    The answers to this question can expose the legal strengths of the GC as well as the interest and capability to roll up their sleeves and practice law. From a leadership perspective, the candidate will reveal their ability to build a team and the impact that the new lawyers made from a financial perspective.
  1. Describe a situation where the business team wanted you to do something which presented significant risk to the organization and how you dealt with it.
    This is your chance to understand the risk tolerance and ethics of the individual. It can also expose a person’s ability to creatively manage risk and achieve business goals.
  1. How have you created a competitive advantage for your company?
    The ideal answer is one that is much bigger than a single deal, litigation or regulatory matter, or policy. Someone who has been able to impact the culture of the organization, change the methodology for how business is done, or improve relationships with regulators will make a more significant impact in your company.
  1. Tell me about a time when business priorities changed. Describe how you helped your team understand and carry out the shifted goals.
    Shifting priorities happen at every company and in every job, so look for candidates who are flexible and have the skills to help carry out change. Hire leaders who are self-aware, motivated, and display empathy.  Rigid personalities tend to not make strategic advisors.
  1. Describe your personal network and the people you stay in touch with the most.
    Being able to form long-standing relations and a reliable network are essential for the success of a GC. Listen for close relationships with current and previous managers, peers, company executives, and industry associations. These relationships also are a sign of high emotional intelligence. 
  1. What three words would best describe the culture of your current organization? What would you change about the culture if you could?
    This question allows the interviewer to determine the type of culture in which the candidate will thrive. A cultural match is critical for long-term success. But be careful not to rule someone out just because their ideal culture isn’t exactly the same as yours; take the entire interview into consideration and decide if the similarities outweigh the differences.

Topics: Legal


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