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Legal In-House Roles: 6 Questions To Ask At Interview

In this article, we speak to Bryn Thomas (solicitor and independent legal consultant with many years’ experience as an in-house lawyer) on the importance of the questions you at interview with 6 examples to maximise your impact on potential employers.

"Candidates’ questions will indicate to the interviewer how well the candidate has thought about the role in the wider context of the hiring organisation, and how serious they are about joining the business.  It is a perfect opportunity for candidates to demonstrate:

  • how they seek information, a key legal skill,
  • how they process that information received in a short space of time and (very importantly),
  • their interpersonal style. 

On the other side of the coin, the answers represent an opportunity for the interviewer to market the company to you. This is something which can be overlooked by them particularly in a market where there is a dearth of good candidates."

Is this a new role or a backfill?

"This is a question which you may have asked prior to interview and is a critical piece of information you will need, and something to explore in depth with your recruitment consultant. If it is a new role, that is generally good news as it means the company, or at least the legal workload, is expanding. 

Companies recruit lawyers reluctantly given they are expensive, so a new vacancy is a sign of growth which can give you a degree of confidence in the outlook.

Conversely, if this is a backfill, explore carefully and ensure you are satisfied why the last person in role left. The best case, it was to take a promotion in the company. Again, this is a positive sign that the company works to recruit from within.

Other perfectly acceptable reasons are that they left to relocate/retire/take a non-legal role etc. If you get messages along the lines of “it was not working”, “there was a personality clash”, “it didn’t work out” - then get as much detail as you can; was it the leavers problem or something is off in the department?"

How does the company manage career development?

"This is a great question as it shows that you are enthusiastic about the company and interested in the longer term.

Contrast a stock answer from the interviewer, i.e. that people are the main assets of the company, career development is central to the employment experience etc. from a detailed answer, i.e. discussion on a formal career development programme, examples of colleagues who have progressed, training programmes etc."

How does the department track projects and workload?

"This can give insight into how work projects and tasks are tracked. 

Is the reporting formal or informal?  Via a system or face to face? Very frequent tracking is a possible indicator of micromanagement. Infrequent tracking is a possible indicator of a department which does not get recognition.

Answers will of course vary according to the size of the team and need to be interpreted accordingly.  A very small team could, understandably, mean less formal reporting."

How you approach an interview and your preparedness is vital for interview success.

What are my objectives/tasks for the first 6 months?

"This will tease out of the interviewer whether there is a very specific vision for the role and pre-defined tasks to concentrate on, or whether there is just a lot of work which needs to be done and they need someone in to get cracking. 

Either option is fine, there is no right or wrong with this one. The answer gives you some insight into how the work will be structured.

Very broadly, (though take this with a pinch of salt) a “specific set of tasks” approach could indicate:

  • a well-run, planned department with developed management systems and reporting,
  • though a possible indication of micromanagement or restricted growth. 

A “loose/undefined” approach could indicate:

  • a fun, busy department where everyone gets stuck in, 
  • less hierarchy or good delegation,
  • though a possible indication of a chaotic environment which may not suit everyone who is EIC."

Ask questions specific to the job specification

"Somewhat similar to the above, pick some specific line items from the job specification which interest you and see if you can get more insight into what is being required. Here are some examples:

Drafting third party distribution agreements.

  • Will I get chance to negotiate directly with the distributor?
  • Do you belong to any 3rd party resource for legal information? 

Conduct competition law training with the business team.

  • Would you like me to put the training materials together as well as deliver them?

Confer with external counsel as necessary.

  • Would I have the opportunity in this role to control the budget?
  • Could I get involved in choosing external counsel? 

What are the strategic plans for the company?

"It's great to finish with a big picture question on the future of the organisation! You may not get a huge amount of information but should get a sense of the direction of the company and how it will grow. 

This question will indicate that you are interested in commercial matters outside of the job specification, are looking long term and are enthusiastic for the role.

In the stress of an interview, it is possible to forget to ask a question you had prepared, or you may simply run out of time. If so, let your recruitment consultant know as soon as possible and they can confer with the interviewer who should welcome your follow up, as it is a powerful indicator of enthusiasm."

How you approach an interview and your preparedness is vital for interview success.

From researching the company to deciding what to wear, they are all contributing factors towards landing a job offer. Robert Walters offers expert support and guidance to help professionals show the best version of themselves to a hiring manager, offering well-rounded advice from years of industry experience and success in helping legal professionals continue to progress within their career.

Contact Aleisha Murray at aleisha.murray@robertwalters.com +44 (0) 20 7509 8736 for advice on landing your next job offer.


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