How to hire a General Counsel

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Hiring a general counsel requires a lot of thought but when and how should you hire a general counsel?

How do you know if a GC fits the role you need, where do you find the top candidates, and what are the general counsel interview questions you should be asking? We answer all this and more below.

When should I hire a General Counsel?

You need to hire a GC when the legal work becomes too difficult (and expensive) to manage alongside other responsibilities or too complicated to handle without the right expertise. Most often, this is in a growth stage where a businesses risk appetite is at its highest. In the earlier stages of a business, legal work sits with the person responsible for operations at the business.

As the business scales, so does the work these employees do and the risks the business has to take. At this stage it may become apparent that the business needs to hire a legal professional to handle incoming legal requests, alongside building legal infrastructure that will protect it against risk as it grows.Other points that indicate the need for in-house resource include:

  • Complexity of legal work. If your business operates in a high-regulated industry, like finance or healthcare, you may consider hiring an in-house lawyer sooner rather than later, to handle regulatory and compliance work.
  • Variety of legal work. If your business is expanding into other territories, planning a funding round or M&A, or launching new products and services, then you may want to consider hiring an in-house lawyer to offer guidance on these huge projects.
  • Cost of outsourcing legal work. If you review your legal spend management, you’ll likely reach a point where hiring a lawyer in-house is more beneficial than outsourcing that work to external counsel.

Is a General Counsel the right role for your team?

This depends on the kind of work your General Counsel will be doing. If you’re looking for a lawyer to manage low-value contracts and oversee simple contract negotiations, then a GC will be overqualified for the role. This may result in disengagement with the work, and a higher chance they’ll end up leaving after a short period of time. 

To ensure you’re hiring the most suitable person for the job, make sure you have answers to the following questions:

  • What kind of work will that hire be doing? Will they be doing administrative work, or acting as a strategic partner to the business?
  • What skills and capabilities do you consider a must-have for your legal hire, as opposed to a ‘nice-to-have’?

  • What kind of expertise do you need? Are there any major projects or milestones coming up over the next few years that require certain legal skills?

  • How do you anticipate the legal team growing over the next few years? Do you want to hire someone who can grow that team, and manage direct reports?

  • If you’re looking to hire someone more junior, who will manage and train them?

This can help you identify the right level of expertise for your business.

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Where to hire a General Counsel

You have three main options when choosing how to approach hiring a general counsel. 

1. Use your network

You can turn to law firms that you've worked with in the past for candidates. If you're at a startup that until that point, has been using a law firm, you could ask them for recommendations based on similar clients of theirs. 

This could be an effective way to source top talent with relevant experience. You can also post the job on LinkedIn, though the success of this approach will depend on the size and reach of your network. 

2. Find a community

Reaching out to a community specifically for GCs and senior lawyers can be useful. One example is Juro’s community of 1000+ in-house lawyers. Having access to closed-door events, exclusive content, perks and a curated General Counsel jobs board in this area may help you narrow your search. 

There are plenty of groups that aim at tech lawyers, which can make reaching out to your ideal candidates much easier. 

3. Use a specialist recruiter

The downside to this is that there aren’t that many specialist recruiters to choose from, especially when you’re looking at specific roles, so your options may be limited. But this can be an effective way to outsource the heavy lifting of sourcing talent.

How much does it cost to hire a General Counsel?

Hiring a general counsel is not cheap. According to, the base salary for a General Counsel in the US is an average of $365,000. z

In the UK, the salary for a General Counsel is an average of £206,440, according to Glassdoor’s salary benchmarks. For a full rundown of the average general counsel pay across several countries, check out this page

How to assess a General Counsel’s skills in an interview

It’s important to assess both hard and soft skills in the interview process.

Assessing hard skills

An effective way to do this is through written tasks. For example, you could set your GC the task of redlining part of your Master Services Agreement (MSA) and assess based on their approach to the task; are they highlighting every minor detail? Or are they prioritising important points over nitpicking? Do they have strong attention to detail? Or are they haphazard in their redlining process?

When hiring the first GC at Juro, Richard Mabey set this task. He says: “We wanted to see if that candidate could prioritise the most significant points - are they redlining contracts strategically, or are they striking everything out?”

Being able to identify a candidate's strengths and weaknesses in a contract markup can be an effective indicator of how they work, and if they’d work well in your business. You can ask your current external counsel to help with the process of assessing quality of work and interviewing. 

Assessing soft skills

Values interviews can be really useful when assessing soft skills. These are usually conversations between the candidate and other colleagues in the business, outside of the team the candidate will be joining. A General Counsel, for example, would speak with colleagues outside of legal.

These interviews allow employers to assess how well the candidate works with others, which is super important – there’s no point being the most talented lawyer in the business if you’re difficult to work with!

Another effective way to measure soft skills is to set a presentation task, like working through a 90 day plan template, or creating a skeleton legal playbook. This will help the business assess the candidate’s clarity, communication skills and interpersonal skills. 

How do you know which General Counsel to hire?

There are several factors that determine whether a General Counsel is the right fit for your business, such as growth mindset, experience, collaborative nature and value-add. 

  • Growth mindset: in-house lawyers need to balance risk with growth and an inability to do so will slow the business down. Hire someone who is adaptable and ready for the unique challenges of working at a scaling company.

  • Experience: similar to the above, you can set yourself up for success by interviewing and assessing candidates with relevant experience. Someone who only has experience as a lawyer at a Magic Circle firm might not be the right fit for an in-house role at a venture capital backed startup.

  • Collaborative nature: in-house lawyers are strategic advisors to the wider business and enablers of growth. This requires being able to collaborate with the wider business and manage requests coming from all sides of the company. A collaborative nature is a must-have. In order to succeed, legal can’t live in a silo, detached from the rest of the business.

  • Value-fit: does the candidate align with your company values? Do they fit your company culture, but more importantly, can they add to it and influence it? Being able to work well with others and act as a representative of the business is key

How do you define success in the General Counsel’s role?

Establishing a 90-day plan with quantifiable outcomes can help set the General Counsel up for success and provide accountability.

Being able to attribute metrics to the role and work in a data-driven way is also a good sign of a successful General Counsel; what are the contract turnaround times for commercial teams, for example? How many legal issues or queries were resolved in a month? What is the internal NPS of the legal team?

This removes the subjectivity and allows colleagues to objectively measure success of the legal function, which is really important.

Hiring a General Counsel to build and scale the legal function is an exciting stage of a company’s life. By understanding what you need from a legal leader, what they can offer, and how to measure success, you can ensure the GC hits the ground running from day one, and delivers value to the wider business. 

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