Recruiting lawyers into your in-house team

In this article we look at 12 aspects of recruiting lawyers, including some of the practical steps you can take to help you get recruitment right.

Recruiting a new lawyer into your team is a major decision. 

You may need to fill a vacancy when someone moves on or you may need more resource to deal with a new area of work or cope with an expansion of existing work.

You’ve already decided that the best way to meet this need is by recruiting rather than using an alternative option to plug the gap – such as by outsourcing or in-sourcing from a law firm or alternative legal services provider.

1.  Spending time to get it right

Whether you’re a GC or managing a team within the legal function, recruiting and inducting new lawyers is a key part of your management role. While you cannot guarantee that every hiring decision will work out, it’s important to spend time identifying your needs and planning a process to help you get there. Cutting corners or delegating the responsibility is rarely a good idea.

2. Deciding who you need

If you’re replacing a lawyer who’s moved on, think about whether you need to recruit on a like for like basis or whether you need a different set of skills. This may depend on whether you’re replacing a specialist in a critical area or whether you’re taking the opportunity to change the make-up of the team.

3. What skills?

Recruiting may provide you with the opportunity to attract candidates with a different skill-set. Of course, you’ll want good legal skills but how specialist do they need to be? It may be more important to get a good candidate with the ability to work across different legal areas.

If you’re recruiting from private practice you may expect your chosen candidate to have to develop their business acumen, particularly in relation to your own organisation and sector. But think also about the personal and people skills you need, such as flexibility, resilience, communication, collaboration and trust-worthiness.

4. The job description

We’re all familiar with job adverts that are big on generic ‘management speak’ but which tell you little about what the job actually entails or what the candidate will need to demonstrate in order to be hired.

A good job description is informative and also takes the opportunity to promote the attractions of working in your team and organisation. It pays to influence the wording of the job description so that it covers the areas you need it to – duties, opportunities, experience, skills and behaviours and selling the team.

5. Level of experience

While lawyers can move at senior levels from private practice to in-house or from one senior in-house role to another, most recruitment will be for more junior roles.

So, what level of experience do you require? Some in-house teams favour recruits in the earlier stages of their legal career as they have not yet become too specialised and may be better able to adapt to a more general workload, advising on a wider range of legal issues.

6. Recruiting future leaders

It can be tempting to recruit only for a particular role, especially where there’s an urgent demand. This may drive you to only look at candidates with a specialist skill-set who can most easily hit the ground running.

But this may be short-sighted as you may miss the opportunity to look at candidates with the ability and aptitude to develop into not only excellent in-house lawyers but also future leaders in your own, or another, organisation. Ultimately, you want the best lawyers and that won’t always mean those that are the best ‘technical fit’. 

7. Assessing candidates

Recruitment will almost always involve an interview process of one kind or another. But it’s not the only way of assessing candidates. Many organisations also use application forms, CVs and testing, including online tests and perhaps psychometric tests. Some employers use assessment centres, where a combination of assessments – interview, presentations and tests are used.

For more senior roles, some organisations may use a ‘head-hunter’ or external specialist to carry out first round interviews. Anonymous or blind CVs are also used to increase diversity and opportunity.

8. Interviews

At some point you’ll want to interview your chosen candidates. Organisations employ different processes but, for lawyer roles, it’ll usually be a face to face interview. This gives you another opportunity to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role.

At one time competency based interviews were the norm but many organisations have moved away from these in favour of interviews that give greater insight into the strengths, character and working style of candidates.

Who sits on the interview panel may vary as might the number of interviews, although at least a two-stage process would be normal for lawyer roles. In any event, you will certainly want the line manager and the GC or head of the team to be involved in the interview process.

9. Presentations

These can be a useful way of drawing out the strengths and character of the candidate. The topic and format can be disclosed in advance, or at the assessment or interview. The topic may be on a technical legal issue or one that requires the candidate to think flexibly or laterally to some degree. 

10. Saying 'No' and recruiting more than one candidate

You may find that none of the candidates you interview are really right for the role. The temptation might be to hire one anyway, particularly if there’s an urgent demand. But hiring in haste may backfire, better to stick to your convictions and say “No” and return to the drawing board.

Alternatively, you may find that you have two excellent candidates for one role. If you have the budget, you might take the opportunity to hire both candidates if you think they’ll be great additions to the team. If you run a bigger team another factor here is staff turnover. It’s always possible that someone will leave during the year, making it important to view the staff budget annually rather than month to month.  

11. In-house trainees

They’re still pretty rare, other than in a handful of large in-house teams. Taking a trainee is an important commitment and you need to be able to provide the necessary breadth of training to meet the regulatory requirements – although an arrangement with a partner law firm may solve that issue and allow the trainee to gain good experience in particular training seats.

There is an obvious attraction in being able to develop your lawyers from the start of their career and is something well worth considering if you believe you can do it well.

12. Success Profiles

Different assessment methods are used depending on the type of role but, for lawyers, these may well include qualifications; online tests; application forms, interviews, presentations, written analysis and assessment centres.

For lawyers, their relevant professional framework will already have set out the necessary qualifications, skills and knowledge for legal roles covering such as legal knowledge, analytical skills, research skills, and communication skills. But you will also want a range of other skills and behaviours that you’ll need to assess. For example:- 

  • Business acumen/awareness
  • Resilience
  • Technology skills
  • Collaboration
  • Social intelligence


Getting recruitment right really matters and recruiting well is a key success factor for in-house legal teams and their leaders.