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Culture Is Key When Hiring For Corporate Legal In-House Teams

When considering hiring a new member for your in-house legal team or general counsel there are many factors to consider for finding and appointing the right candidate. Many lawyers have the substantive, educational and technical requirements needed to perform in the role - however these credentials are standard across the legal talent pool. Finding someone with the qualifications and experience is the easy part of the legal executive search and recruitment process. The biggest challenge when recruiting for a senior corporate lawyer or a general counsel role is finding a candidate that will be the best cultural fit and therefore successful long term.

Fit Is Critical, But Why Is This Important.

Cultural fit is what distinguishes and sets apart one lawyer or candidate from another. This is important when hiring because your team’s and company’s successes will be dependent upon how well a new hire works and collaborates with others. You can gauge cultural fit through their leadership and communication styles, interpersonal and relationship building skills, critical thinking methodology and more. If a lawyer’s personality or working style doesn't align with your company’s values, mission or have chemistry with the wider team - chances are this candidate will need to be replaced in several months.

How To Gauge Fit - Advice From A Legal Search Consultant.

I have been recruiting lawyers and General Counsel for corporations for over 30 years. When I work with department heads and senior executive leaders I always provide honest feedback throughout the entire executive search and hiring process. The best way I can tell clients to gauge for cultural fit is by telling them to trust their gut. We all have the innate ability to judge whether there is chemistry between us and those around us and I always tell clients to trust this intuition. When it comes down to two lawyers interviewing for a role, you should choose the candidate that you want to get to know in more depth and are excited to work with. I tell clients that by looking beyond the benchmark criteria of degree, experience and qualification you will gain a much greater return on investment by selecting the candidate that has:

  • Passion for the role

  • Aligns with company values, vision and mission

  • Can build strong relationships with other team members

  • Has complimentary leadership skills and styles to existing team members

Basing your decision on cultural fit will yield a more cohesive and productive team, a longer career tenure for the new hire, an appreciation for the wider team and highly engaged performers.

The Best Candidate Is Not Always The Most Qualified.

I once worked on a search for a national company that had hundreds of retail stores and locations. They approached Early Cochran & Olson to help support them in finding and appointing a new General Counsel. They wanted this candidate to have had experience and knowledge in everything from real estate to retail law. We conducted a search and put forward the best talent to the hiring committee, and eventually arrived at two finalist candidates. The selected candidate that was hired was not an expert in real estate law and did not have extensive experience in the retail industry, but had such strong leadership capabilities, personality and communication skills that cultural fit outweighed credentials and experience. Chemistry and relationships are everything when it comes to hiring for critical roles on your team.

A Word To Lawyers and Legal Candidates.

As a search consultant, I see both sides of the hiring and the interview process from a candidate and client perspective. When a lawyer is not moved forward in the process or selected as the final candidate, they will often ask me, “What could I have done differently or better?” My advice is always “It is nothing that you did or didn’t do or could have done differently. The fact that you made it to the short list of candidates shows you are more than qualified, but in the end it came down to cultural fit and that was not a match.” There will be many other opportunities to pursue in the future and many other corporations where you will be a much better fit.

About Corinne Cochran.

Corinne Cochran began her career in executive search in 1983, specializing in the recruitment of senior lawyers for corporations and law firms. In 1994, she merged her firm with Bert Early Associates to form Early Cochran & Olson. After more than 30 years, Corinne remains passionate about the business and the people. Her extensive network, seasoned approach and well-honed intuition are proven to deliver top legal talent to Fortune 500 and privately-held clients. Corinne received her bachelor’s degree in English from The Principia College and she has been a long-time volunteer and leader in a variety of community and civic activities.


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