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Seven Important Selection Criteria for Hiring In-House Counsel


When it comes time to hire, what are the most important criteria to use when selecting someone who will thrive in your organization? While credentials, work experience, and great references are important, they only scratch the surface of hiring the ideal candidate. What else should you consider when making the final hiring decision? To answer this question, I surveyed successful GCs from multiple industries across the country for their perspectives. A special thanks to those who shared their insights for this article. Read on for some of their tried-and-true evaluation metrics.

Cultural Fit
Cultural fit is a popular catch phrase these days. But what does it really mean? Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you consider that: Is the person someone you would want to share a cup of coffee with? Would you want to have a conversation with them at your company picnic? Would you want them across the table from you at 2:00 am during an emergency? What if the tables were turned and they were interviewing you; is the person someone you would want to report to? Considering the amount of time spent at work, you want to be sure any new hire is someone you would want to spend time with and who won’t upset the applecart. Hire people who share your company’s values and who you believe will work well with the people currently in your organization.

While cultural fit is important, be careful to not hire people who are simply a carbon copy of your existing team. Diversity can include: age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, education, disability, socioeconomics, and more. Your goal is to have a team of individuals with different experiences and perspectives to prevent stagnation. Different points of view allow for broader consideration of different approaches and alternatives and can help lead you to the best course of action for the company.

Are they humble, optimistic, growth-minded, forward-thinking? Do they have a can-do spirit and love challenges? Are they excited to step outside their comfort zone?

Many law departments take pride in their servant leadership and partnership mentalities, so it is critical not to bring in a lawyer who feels entitled by their pedigree. Look for humble, team players with great can-do attitudes.

Look for someone who is curious and wants to understand the “whys” and is not hesitant to ask, “why not?” This is key to being a great business partner, not just another in-house lawyer.

Look for smart and accomplished lawyers who are curious and eager to learn. People who are curious are more adaptable and often gain a better appreciation for the business. They’re also willing to take on new challenges and push themselves to accomplish stretch goals.

To use a sports analogy, you are not just hiring for a position on the team to win this year’s Super Bowl. The needs of organizations change. You need to hire a great athlete who is not stuck in a certain role or way of dealing with issues. Someone who came in as a running back may need to adapt quickly and learn how to play baseball because the game and the rules have now changed.

For the legal function to be effective, you need people who communicate well. Signs of a good communicator include: eye contact; having ease and confidence in presenting themselves, their ideas, and their passions to their audience; using appropriate and easy-to-understand language; and last, but certainly not least, actively listening. As someone once said, “It is impossible to be a great lawyer and a poor listener.”

In-house counsel must learn how to provide counsel and advice with an economy of words. Attorneys coming from law firms are not always trained in brevity, so finding a candidate who can communicate with business decision makers in a concise and articulate manner is important, or they will not be effective in their in-house role.

High Expectations
Find a good attorney who has been able to successfully rise above adversity and stick to their own goals, keeping a sense of urgency and laser-focus on business needs. While there are many smart lawyers that operate well in the status quo, you want someone who can remain calm and retain their composure when plans A, B, and C have failed and they must go to plan D and beyond. This speaks directly to their internal motivation and drive.

Incorporating these selection criteria into the hiring process will improve the caliber of talent hired and make for a stronger legal department.

Topics: Legal Talent   |   Interview   |   Legal   |   In-House Counsel


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