The Chief Legal Officer is the head of the corporate legal department and is responsible for the legal affairs of the entire corporation. This role includes providing legal counsel to the board of directors, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and other senior management. CLOs must possess strong initiative, as well as excellent management and leadership skills, and strong business acumen. A Juris Doctor (JD) and an applicable state license to practice law are required. The level of experience required for the position may vary, depending on company size.
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The general counsel position is a major part of the executive leadership team. You need someone who displays great leadership skills, sound judgment, and a strong sense of ethics. Finding a candidate who meets all of these expectations as well as your business needs can be difficult. Before sitting down for an interview, you need to consider what skill set and competencies your company needs in a general counsel. For instance, if your company is expecting to start handling acquisitions, then someone with a corporate law background may be beneficial.
To get you started, below are five assessment questions you should be asking a general counsel candidate no matter the scope of the position.
Hiring outside counsel is expensive. By asking candidates this question, you can understand how the criteria a candidate uses to determine when to use inside attorney staff and when to hire outside help. It’s also helpful to know how a candidate determines which law firm to hire when seeking outside counsel.
You want to look for three main points in a candidate’s answer to this question.
The right candidate for the job will have the practical experience and a few recommendations for reducing spending in the law department. A candidate should be suggesting ideas such as relying on in-house legal services as well as utilizing smaller, more affordable, firms when seeking outside counsel.
You need someone who understands budget limitations and comes with creative ways to overcome monetary constraints.
Listen to how the candidate solved the problems as well as the overall outcome of the situation. Did the candidate work with stakeholders to develop a strategy? Did the candidate research unfamiliar topics?
The answer to this question will show you how each candidate will handle potential issues that arise at your company.
This question will also help you compare answers between candidates. What one person saw as challenging might be a normal business day for another candidate. The complexity of each challenge will show you the types of problems the candidates have experience handling so far.
It’s really important to understand a candidate’s risk tolerance and risk management. The right candidate will be able to demonstrate what was learned from a risky situation as well as explain how it was handled. If it didn’t go well, then this is an opportunity for the candidate to explain how it would be done better in the future.
Managing risk isn’t always easy and you need someone who can bounce back after an error and do better in the future.
The general counsel interacts with a number of different people, but regulators and the executive team are two important groups you need to ask about. You want a candidate who has experience working with regulators and who has an organization system in place for maintaining documents.
Since the general counsel will be working alongside your executive team, you want to know how well candidates are currently working with their teams. High-level responsibilities and an expanded role outside of the legal department are two strong signs that a candidate has earned the trust of their executive team.
Including these five questions in your interview will give you a solid understanding of each candidate’s key competencies. The general counsel is a crucial member of your executive team, so understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate is essential to your business.
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