What to Look for in Your In-House Counsel

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Many businesses and corporations hire in-house counsel for several reasons. Business and the law often intersect. Having an in-house legal advisor can help ensure your business follows all relevant laws and guidelines—and they can point out potential benefits from new regulations.

To ensure company success, you want to find dependable and trustworthy in-house counsel. But what does that look like? What skills should you look for in a candidate?

Continue reading to learn more about what to look for when hiring in-house counsel, including hard and soft skills, and how your company can benefit.

What is In-House Counsel?

In-house counsel is an attorney or team of lawyers employed by a company who might:

  • negotiate and interpret contracts
  • educate employees on compliance with relevant laws and regulations
  • assess and advise on legal risk
  • oversee legal matters against and/or pursued by the company
  • conduct investigations into misconduct
  • draft and interpret policies, procedures, and other documents

Whereas people typically think of attorneys working for many clients, in-house or corporate counsel are employed by a single company for a wide range of legal services. These services can vary depending on the company, industry, and business needs.

Businesses within any sector or industry require legal advice and risk management. So, there’s potential for in-house counsel to work individually or with a team of other legal advisors. They can work for any business ranging from the tech industry to healthcare.

Though their focus is on legal work, in-house counsel may also require skills pertaining to business ventures or public relations as they represent their companies on a grand scale. Learning about their general duties and responsibilities will help you better determine your business needs.

Case Study: Learn how Insight Global met one law firm's toughest hiring needs. Click to download.

What are Some Different In-House Counsel Positions?

The bigger a company, the more legal professionals it may have in-house. In-house counsel may be part of a bigger team that reports to the head of a legal department. Having an entire legal team or multiple in-house attorneys depends on the available budget for those hiring needs. When a major corporation has offices in different regions, they may hire multiple in-house attorneys, with just one or two of them working at each regional location.

Smaller organizations with a smaller budget may employ a single in-house counsel. This individual is the only lawyer with the company.

Depending on your business needs, you may look to acquire multiple candidates for your legal team, including corporate counsel, paralegals, legal secretaries, or compliance officers.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of In-House Counsel?

Tasks surrounding the management of legalities and business dealings can be extensive. They may range from overseeing mergers and acquisitions to litigating lawsuits or managing internal employee issues. For this reason, it’s hard to define the exact duties and responsibilities of in-house or corporate counsel. But some general tasks you might expect them to perform include:

  • Providing legal advice
  • Preparing to negotiate company contracts
  • Managing tax and regulatory affairs
  • Requesting and drafting legal documents
  • Communicating legal matters to executives and stakeholders
  • Developing company policies and ensuring adherence to said policies
  • Researching and evaluating the legal risks or ramifications of business decisions
  • Interpreting and clarifying legal language to stakeholders
  • Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of law and regulations

What is the Average Pay of In-House Counsel?

Compensation for in-house counsel varies greatly depending on education, qualifications, and years of experience, plus the person’s geographical location. Based on a survey of 1600 in-house lawyers, typical annual base pay ranges from $200,000 to $249,000.

In-house counsel skills can be invaluable to the success of your business operations. But you’ll have to factor the budget into your overall decision. That includes determining how many years of experience you’re looking for and what additional qualifications you’d like your in-house counsel to have.

In-House Counsel Qualifications

For starters, you will want to hire an attorney who is a bar member in good standing and licensed to advise on legal matters in your jurisdiction. Depending on the role, you may not want to hire someone who just passed the bar exam. However, an in-house attorney’s minimum experience depends on the size of your company and the scope of the expected legal work.

For a small company or a start-up company, you might allow years of business experience to compensate for years of legal experience. For a larger company, especially if you’re hiring your first in-house attorney, you should look for a lawyer who has already worked as in-house counsel before.

Experience is not the only consideration when evaluating a legal candidate.

What Additional Certification and Skills are Good to Have?

There are additional certifications that some lawyers might choose to get if they work in a particular area of law. Some potential certifications include the:

  • Certified Regulatory Compliance Professional (CRCP) certification
  • Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) certification
  • American Bar Association’s Business Law Certification program

These can better equip attorneys to handle company issues regarding business, ethics, and regulatory compliance. Individuals can pursue additional certifications for other niches. For example, in-house counsel within the healthcare industry may obtain a Healthcare Compliance certification to be more qualified for the role.

What Soft Skills are Good for In-House Counsel to Have?

Working as in-house counsel requires a specific type of education and degree. But as with any job, soft skills are just as important. Here are five soft skills to look for in prospective candidates.

1. Communication

Your counsel must effectively communicate legal advice. That includes explaining legal matters effectively and keeping stakeholders apprised of current laws and regulations.

2. Problem-solving

There are many times when a company must strategically manage legal conflicts. In-house counsel must be able to come up with creative solutions to legal problems and implement those solutions effectively.

3. Technology Competencies

We live in an age of ever-evolving technology. So, in-house counsel, and most corporate positions, must be proficient with computers.

4. Leadership

Whether your in-house counsel is part of a team or works individually, they must be able to lead people and initiatives.

5. Time Management

The size of your company will determine business needs and the number of tasks your in-house counsel will complete. Expert-level time management skills are necessary to schedule their day and manage those tasks.

6. Interpersonal Skills

In-house counsel must work well with other co-workers, other legal professionals, executives, stakeholders, and clients. Creating and maintaining these relationships is crucial to the overall success of your company, especially when dealing with sensitive legal issues.

7. Critical Thinking

A lot of legal problems require careful thought and consideration to solve. Critical thinking is an invaluable skill for any lawyer trying to help their company with the legalities of their business ventures. You can learn more about a prospective candidate’s critical thinking skills through tests, assessments, and asking situation-specific interview questions to assess how they’d respond in a real-life business setting.

What Hard Skills are Necessary for In-House Counsel?

The seven years of obtaining a bachelor’s and Juris Doctor Degree teach lawyers many hard skills. The top three hard skills you should consider are:

1. Legal and Business Expertise

When hiring in-house counsel, ensure they have strong knowledge of law and business. You must be able to trust their advice. Without the proper knowledge, your business could be at risk or at fault in specific situations.

2. Negotiation and Persuasion

While some might consider negotiation and persuasion to be soft skills, in legal work, they’re hard skills. Effective negotiation and persuasion require extensive knowledge, not just of the law but of every detail in the particular situation.

Most in-house lawyers prepare and negotiate contracts for their companies. If you need this expertise, look for a candidate with experience in contract management and legal drafting.

3. Analytical and Research Skills

Before creating a solution to a legal issue, counsel must analyze the problem. For the best legal representation, look for someone who can analyze legal risks or ramifications of potential business dealings. In order to analyze the problem and propose solutions, a lawyer must also have strong research skills.

The research process can include:

  • Searching for information
  • Finding information
  • Interpreting information
  • Evaluating information

And all of this requires extensive knowledge to do research efficiently.

Consider Business Needs First

Remember, the most critical in-house counsel skills will depend on your business needs.

Before recruiting prospective candidates, consider what you hope to gain from hiring in-house counsel. Are you looking to add a new member to the team? Are you looking for sole in-house counsel? Perhaps you’re looking to change your business portfolio and need someone with expertise in the laws and regulations of a new industry.

Whatever the case, determining priorities is vital before considering prospective candidates. Insight Global can help you hire the right attorneys for your in-house counsel when ready. Visit our website or call us today to get started!