In-House Counsel, Interview Stories

House Rules: You’re in the House — Now, Stay There…

(Note: the scenarios depicted herein may be vastly different from what you experience(d). They are based on my opinion alone, and fact patterns may differ drastically. The process that I advise is based on an amalgam of numerous colleagues’ experiences.)

There is nothing like the feeling of a strange voice on the phone telling you that they’d like to speak with you about a job for which you’ve applied. There is a rush that comes with finally receiving a response, a euphoric “you like me, you really, really like me…” Okay, so that’s a bit over the top, but after slogging through job hunt Hell for months with no response but the rare (these days) ding letter, it’s certainly a nice change to have someone want to speak with you.

So, after that initial shock wears off, get to the getting. Not only do you want this job, the person on the other end of the phone wants to hire you. Nobody enjoys seeing candidate after candidate — time is money, and unlike law firms where interviews can entail lavish lunches or dinners, in-house interviews are vastly different….

First, you are likely to be vetted by a recruiter hired by the company, or HR representative. This first interview is to see if you can walk and chew gum simultaneously. There will be rubrics for you to meet, but you will have no idea what they are. Answer as honestly as you can at this point — and all through the process, for that matter. Try and tell folks what you think they want to hear, and you’re going to be found out at some point in the process.

Be yourself. You have enough interview experience by now to be able to answer questions such as why you want to work for the company, what you’ve been doing in your other life, and so on. It goes without saying that you have read every piece of material about the company that you can get your hands on. Annual reports, media stories, even social media sites in favor of, and in opposition to, the company are good fodder.

This is not the time to be taking a job just because it’s a job. Legal market be damned, you don’t want to get into this process just to pay rent. You will end up miserable, and you won’t be around the company long. Few things stick in the craw of the person responsible for hiring you in-house like making a mistake in giving you a chance. Not only does it end badly for you, but the hiring person looks bad internally — politics are amplified in-house. Not only are the lawyers a cost center, they can also be viewed as “stoppers” on the path to successful deals.

So, you’ve succeeded in passing the first level. Congratulations, now you need to double back on your homework. You must gain a level of understanding of the company, and specifically the job applied for, to be able to fluently speak to any number of attorneys, business folks, and ultimately the GC, who may or may not be an officer of the company, about why you are the right person for the job. Unlike firm interviews, it is highly appropriate to ask any number of questions about the job. Not the company, but the job itself. This will show that you are trying to comprehend to a fine point what is required and necessary to help the team succeed. Showing a determination to learn what has worked, and what has not worked in the past, can readily express your desire to fit into the culture, and the department.

You will face all types of interviewing styles, from the pompously worded hypothetical giver, to the friendly to everyone type. You may be given a behavioral interview, where the interviewer records your answers and “measures” you, to the relatively normal question and answer interview where you have a conversation about the position. On a side note, I believe that personality or behavioral interviews are complete bunk. Thankfully, I am married to a Doctor of Education in statistics and psychology who is much smarter than I am, and who has research to support my opinion.

Most of the email I receive asks how I transitioned from litigation to corporate work. The answer in a nutshell is that I had been negotiating constantly for years. The job that I was applying for required a great deal of contract negotiation, and the job I had was largely litigation of commercial disputes, so the transition was fairly seamless. It was really going from seeing and understanding how contracts fall apart and into lawsuits, to seeing and understanding the genesis of agreements between the parties. However, not all of my interviewers were convinced ahead of time, and only through careful and thoughtful answering on my part, as well as the support of other interviewers, was I able to overcome any prejudice.

Unlike a firm, the hiring process can be very drawn out. Six months is not uncommon. That is a worst case scenario, but unless there has been a sudden departure, a department may have been operating without a body for some time, and only now requires an extra set of hands due to an uptick in work load. Assuming you left the final interview with the number of someone to contact with questions, touch base after the first two weeks, and then perhaps monthly to ascertain where they are in the process.

And keep looking in the meantime, no matter how far you went with the company at hand. I know of one person who went all the way past the GC and was handed to a potential future colleague to have a frank discussion on the company, the city, and other details, only to be told days later that there was a mistake, as the person was given a premature thumbs up. You guessed it, the candidate scored less than positively on the behavioral interview with the GC. All this, even though the candidate was great fit for the department’s needs. So keep looking.

If you receive an offer, assuming the salary is acceptable, congratulations. You’re on your way to a very different lawyerly life. One that can be quite rewarding and fulfilling, if not in the monetary department. Don’t assume you can dicker about salary and perks, etc. These should all be laid out in your offer, and this is not the economy in which a counteroffer is going to be looked on favorably. Be extremely careful if you think you want to ask for more money. It has become common for the salary to be discussed well before an offer is made. And if you have responded positively to a dollar amount thus far, don’t surprise the hiring people with a higher amount. Take the offer, enjoy your new life and forget all about billable hours.


After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at dmowry00@gmail.com.

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