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Hiring Your Legal Team: Why Interview Assignments Can Help You Find the Right Fit

When hiring legal team members, having candidates complete interview assignments can give you a sense of their skills. General counsels from the TechGC community share best practices.


  • Joy Batra

    Director of Content

Team Building & Management

Featuring Insights From:


  • Thomas Chow

    Chief Legal Officer
    Chia Network
    Thomas Chow, Chief Legal Officer, at Chia Network
  • Zachary Henderson

    General Counsel
    Zachary Henderson, General Counsel, at Levels
  • Kateryna Marushchak

    Chief Legal Officer
    Kateryna Marushchak, Chief Legal Officer, at Welltech
  • Stephen George

    Chief Legal Officer
    Endless West
    Stephen George, Chief Legal Officer at Endless West
  • Gregory Wilkinson

    Senior Vice President & General Counsel
    Electro Rent
    Gregory Wilkinson, Senior Vice President & General Counsel, at Electro Rent
  • Tony Stimson

    General Counsel and Secretary
    Tony Stimson, General Counsel and Secretary at A-Lign

When you’re hiring for a new role on your in-house team, you’re looking for attorneys who not only have the legal chops for the job, but who also know how to collaborate across business functions, understand the balance between risk mitigation and growth, and thrive in the ambiguous environment of a high-growth startup.

Digging into candidates’ past experience throughout the interview process is helpful, but many general counsels find that incorporating a written assignment — for example, asking for redlines on a contract — gives them a better understanding of how applicants would perform on the job.

But it’s key to design an assignment that allows prospective employees to showcase the skills you’re looking for, and to do so in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling like they’ve just given free legal advice. Here, GCs from the TechGC community offer their experiences with interview assignments, their best practices, and sample assignments to consider for your interview process.

Key Takeaways

  • Interview assignments can help you evaluate legal skills, communication style, and business savvy, often elevating (or eliminating) surprising candidates.

  • Some lawyers push back on completing assignments, so ensure you’re not turning them off by a complex or ethically ambiguous process.

  • When reviewing assignments, look for business savvy and the ability to think about the business’ big picture as much as you do technical legal skills.

The Benefits (and Risks) of an Interview Assignment

Most TechGC members agree that an assignment is not only standard for the hiring process, it’s a crucial distinguishing factor between seemingly equally qualified applicants.

“Even well-designed behavioral questions don't really give you a sense of a person's working style and work product, says Thomas Chow, Chief Legal Officer and Secretary at Chia Network. “I've had great interviewers who ended up being less strong than I expected, and I have found diamonds in the rough who were later worth their weight in gold.”

Zachary Henderson, General Counsel at Levels, agrees that seeing someone’s actual work product can speak volumes. “The whole point of technical assignments like these is to ensure you're hiring for the actual skills, rather than the ability to smooth-talk your way to the job (which plenty of sub-par lawyers are exceptionally good at doing),” he says.

That said, it’s not unheard of for candidates to push back on completing assignments during the interview process. Those coming from big law firms may be especially concerned about exclusivity agreements or providing legal advice to non-clients. Others are turned off by the additional step. “I don’t believe in doing free consulting as part of a job interview… I wouldn’t consider a job that asked me to do this,” says one Chief Legal Officer.

While some GCs fear alienating top candidates, others see pushback as a sign that they aren’t the right fit for the team. “On a few occasions, I've encountered candidates who believed they were exceptionally suited for the role and above such assessments,” says Kateryna Marushchak, Chief Legal Officer at Welltech. “More often than not, this translated into an unwillingness to perform hands-on work, which ultimately indicated they were not the right fit for our organization.”

You can also mitigate concerns by structuring the assignment properly and ensuring it doesn’t take a great deal of their time. “While I understand and respect concerns about violating their exclusivity agreement or ethical guidelines, it's essential to note that this exercise is not aimed at procuring free legal advice but rather at evaluating their technical capabilities in a real-world context,” says Marushchak. Some companies have responded to candidates’ reluctance to offer free consulting by compensating job-seekers for the time spent preparing and presenting written assignments to the company — but this is rare.

Sample Written Assignments for Legal Candidates

Ideally, the assignment will allow you to see how candidates work in several ways: not only how they tackle the nuances of contracts and legal documents, but also their ability to understand the business’ ultimate goals and how they communicate across and on behalf of the company.

For example, Stephen George, Chief Legal Officer at Endless West, asks people to review a marketing team’s claims about a hypothetical new product, research the regulatory guardrails for those claims, and draft an email about the options the company might consider to mitigate risk. “My goals are to assess the candidate's ability to quickly research a new area of law, provide practical, actionable advice, ask relevant probing questions, evaluate risk in a regulatory gray area, and express their ideas clearly and concisely,” he says.

Here are a few other assignments that members of the TechGC community have utilized in their hiring processes:

  • Have a candidate review and mark up a contract from the view of the opposing side. Then, have them act on behalf of the company, putting in comments in response.

  • Provide a mistake-filled limitation of liability and indemnity clause, explain a fact pattern, and ask candidates to redline the clauses or note what they would change.

  • Outline a scenario and a sample commercial contract, and ask for a quick redline and a draft email of how they would respond to your internal sales team.

  • Provide a license agreement and ask candidates to provide a list of the top three issues they would try to negotiate with the licensee under the agreement. Ask them to quickly identify how they’d propose to address each issue and propose alternative language.

What assignments don’t tend to work as well? Asking prospective employees to draft something lengthy and verbose. “I have in the past had people draft a short memo, but that tends to take a decent amount of time, and many candidates are less willing to spend that time,” says Gregory Wilkinson, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Electro Rent. “I am also not a fan of submitting writing samples, as I have seen enough folks submit fake ones, and most tend to be pleadings which really are not helpful to judge in-house communication skills.”

Best Practices for Written Assignments

As you’re putting together your assignment, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Use a hypothetical contract or example: Be clear to applicants that you’re reviewing their technical skills and how they think, not looking for free legal advice. One TechGC member recommends adding a disclaimer to the effect of: "this is a hypothetical exercise only; it is not a real situation; this does not constitute legal advice and constitutes only assessment of skills."

  • Include a time limit: Asking people to spend no more than one or two hours on the assignment shows you respect their time, plus replicates the fast-moving environment of a tech company.

  • Leave instructions intentionally brief: Wilkinson recommends giving enough direction so that people have what they need to get started, but also keeping things vague to see how they respond to the ambiguity and what issues they focus on most without your influence.

  • Don’t send the assignment to everyone: Only require this step of the process for your top candidates (and let them know they’re in the final running). Sending an assignment to everyone wastes their time — and yours.

Finally, when you review assignments, ensure you have both your lawyer and your business hat on. “In-house, we are business people first and lawyers second,” says Tony Stimson, General Counsel and Secretary at A-LIGN Compliance and Security, Inc. “Look out for candidates who get lost in the minutiae of drafting the perfect provision, rather than focusing on the bigger picture and the real business needs.”

Done well, a technical assignment can be the last step of an interview process that helps you identify the right person for your team. Want more advice on building your team from GCs who have been there? TechGC members can ask their peers for insights on our Braintrust platform. Apply for membership now.

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