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4 real-life general counsel interview questions

A General Counsel is a senior legal executive responsible for overseeing a company's legal affairs. This role involves providing legal guidance to the executive team, managing legal risks, overseeing compliance with laws and regulations, and liaising with outside counsel.

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Content manager Keith MacKenzie and content specialist Alex Pantelakis bring their HR & employment expertise to Resources.

These general counsel interview questions are directly sourced from real hiring managers and they are ready to use.

corporate attorney job description

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4 good general counsel interview questions

  1. Describe a situation where the business team wanted to do something that presented a significant risk to the company and how you dealt with it.
  2. For what matters do you rely on outside counsel? How do you control costs in the legal department?
  3. Describe your relationship with the exec team and with the board.
  4. What are some of the biggest challenges facing the business/industry now?

Here are 4 interview questions with sample answers, based on real hiring managers, to help you identify the best candidates for this role.

1. Describe a situation where the business team wanted to do something risky.

This question assesses risk management and decision-making skills.

Sample answer:

“In a previous role at a tech company, the business team wanted to expedite a product launch that hadn’t fully undergone legal review, posing significant compliance risks. I immediately arranged a meeting to discuss the legal implications, highlighting the potential for regulatory penalties and reputational damage. I proposed a revised timeline that allowed for thorough legal vetting while minimizing delays.

“By presenting a clear analysis of the risks versus benefits and offering a viable solution, I was able to align the team towards a decision that safeguarded the company while keeping business goals in sight.”

2. For what matters do you rely on outside counsel?

This questions evaluates judgment in utilizing external resources.

Sample answer:

“I typically engage outside counsel for specialized legal issues that require expertise beyond our in-house capabilities, such as international law complexities or certain types of litigation. To control costs, I implement a strategic approach by defining clear scopes of work, negotiating cost-effective billing arrangements, and regularly reviewing their performance. In-house training is provided to reduce dependency on external advisors for routine matters.

“My approach ensures that while we benefit from specialized expertise when necessary, we maintain control over legal spending and enhance the skill set of our internal team.”

3. Describe your relationship with the exec team and with the board.

This question probes into interpersonal and leadership skills.

Sample answer:

“My relationship with the executive team and board is founded on trust, transparency, and a shared vision for the company’s success. As General Counsel, I see my role as not just a legal advisor but a strategic partner. This involves providing not just legal opinions, but also guidance on how legal decisions fit within broader business strategies. Regular communication, such as board meetings and one-on-one discussions, helps me stay aligned with their needs and expectations.

“I ensure they are informed about legal risks in a straightforward manner, translating complex legal jargon into actionable business insights.”

4. What are the biggest challenges facing the business/industry now?

This questions checks understanding of industry trends and challenges.

Sample answer:

“The industry is currently navigating through a rapidly evolving regulatory landscape, especially around digital transformation and data privacy laws. With technology advancing at an unprecedented pace, staying compliant with new regulations while leveraging technological innovations is a significant challenge. Additionally, the globalization of business operations introduces complexities in international law and trade agreements.

“Keeping abreast of these changes and proactively adjusting our legal strategies is crucial to mitigate risks. As General Counsel, staying informed and agile in response to these evolving challenges is a top priority to safeguard the company’s interests.”

What does a good general counsel candidate look like?

A good General Counsel candidate possesses extensive legal expertise, particularly in areas relevant to the company’s industry. They should demonstrate excellent problem-solving abilities, strong business acumen, and the ability to provide clear, actionable legal advice. Effective communication skills, both with the legal team and non-legal executives and board members, are crucial. Leadership qualities, including the ability to mentor and manage a legal team and efficiently handle outside counsel, are also important.

Red flags

Red flags include a lack of experience in key legal areas relevant to the company, poor communication skills, and an inability to articulate a clear legal strategy. Over-reliance on outside counsel without strategies for cost management, or difficulty in describing past experiences in risk management, could indicate potential shortcomings. A candidate who lacks business understanding or shows poor judgment in complex legal matters may struggle in the General Counsel role.

Frequently asked questions

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