Legal Consultancy: an Enlightened Alternative Career Path

Legal consultancy is a career option that allows lawyers to experience the benefits of the gig economy. And with the right platform and support, enables lawyers to progress their careers while diversifying their experiences faster than traditional legal career paths. A legal career is traditionally linear: typically, a lawyer enters the profession as a trainee, qualifies as an associate and works towards partnership. The alternative is to work in a corporate legal department or in the public sector, where the top job is general counsel or head of legal. Jobs are advertised by PQE – post-qualification experience – but years of experience are no longer the only measure of professional value.

The world of work has changed, even for the legal sector which is placing increasing value on skills that are not specific to the profession – versatility, resilience, commerciality, technology skills and the ability to deliver strategic business advice. Law firms and corporate legal departments are leveraging the power and value of new service delivery models, such as managed legal services – and legal consultants.

Alternative legal services are becoming more sophisticated – from the legal technologies being developed to how different alternative legal services are being complementarily packaged. These developments are opening up more opportunities for legal consultants, and the resilience and openness that lawyers develop through consultancy makes them arguably the strongest candidates for the delivery of other alternative legal services.

When approaching a crossroads in their careers or needing a kickstart, to feeling inspired in their practice again, many lawyers are looking to firms embracing alternative legal services. It is worth considering a career path that can change gear quickly to fit their personal and professional circumstances, while not losing sight of their career goals and aspirations.

Legal consulting platforms such as Peerpoint, particularly larger platforms with strong resources behind them, provide support, structure and opportunity for lawyers who need or want to change location, specialism or career direction, want exposure to the new ways in which legal advisory work is being practiced or simply want more control over their time and the work they choose to do.

Career-Life Balance and Opportunity

  • Work-life balance: consultancy is an ideal career choice for professionals seeking greater work-life balance than full-time permanent employment can offer. This may be about personal goals and priorities – a passion business, a bucket list experience, family responsibilities, studies or hobbies. The flexibility to progress one’s career and remain in the workforce (with the option of returning to a permanent role) without putting the rest of life on hold, is a powerful tool in achieving that elusive balance.
  • Relocation: Asia has a large transient workforce – lawyers who are accompanying their spouse on a two-year expat contract may not be able or willing to take a career break or commit to a permanent role. Consulting makes relocation easier as it is a supported route into a new job market that presents opportunities to leverage their existing skills and experience and build new ones.
  • Exploring the options: Lawyers who want to explore different types of work or businesses. For example, a lawyer with 3-8 years PQE working in private practice may not want to pursue partnership. In considering a move in-house, it may be worth exploring different businesses and roles to discover the best fit. Consulting offers the opportunity to work with different firms, companies, sectors, teams and experience new specialisms and team and business structures.
  • Reskilling: Lawyers who want to move into a different practice area. If a corporate lawyer wants to work in a tech company or a financial services lawyer wants to move into a fund, an interim consultancy role will give them relevant experience that will enable them to apply for a permanent role – or perhaps decide that this isn’t for them after all. Consulting enables informed decision-making.
  • Consultancy as a career: Lawyers who are looking for a permanent portfolio career. This includes lawyers with niche specialisms who enjoy applying their knowledge in different contexts and growing their expertise. They may wish to combine practical work with lecturing or writing about their specialist topic. Others may be at a stage in their life or career where a permanent role would be impractical or challenging, or they simply don’t want to work full-time, but they want to keep their skills relevant and current.

Legal Consultancy – is it for you?

Assess your priorities and objectives: When embarking on a career as a legal consultant, start with self-assessment. Decide at the outset how much work you need or want to take on, and what you are looking to achieve. What are your priorities and preferences? What are your challenges? What skills, knowledge and experience do you bring to the table? What would you like to learn or develop? What do you enjoy about what you do, what would you like to be different and what are your ambitions in the short, medium and long term? These considerations become your criteria on assessing and accepting assignments, getting the right guidance and adding to your skillset through learning and development.

Timing is everything: Is this the right time to map out a new trajectory and work with more flexibility and control? Do you have the transferrable skills and experience to handle interim roles that interest you and will develop your career in ways that you desire? If you do, a career as a legal consultant can bring you valuable experience in a relatively short time.

Challenges: There are challenges too. Would you enjoy more variety in the type of work you do and the chance to work with different organisations and people? Do you have the resilience to manage a less predictable income and a more dynamic calendar? Hours, location and remuneration vary across assignments, and there may be gaps between assignments, so you need to manage your schedule and your budget. Successful consultants think of gaps as career development and personal fulfilment opportunities to develop skills and nurture the interests that enhance their profile and professional brand.

Practical Considerations

Consultancy assignments generally range from three months to a year – the average is six months. The details are market driven, so a client’s requirements at a given time will depend on their business situation. There is a wider range of needs for consultancy services than career traditionalists would expect, though. Consultants cover spikes in workload, ad hoc need for specialist skillsets, major projects, maternity leave and sabbaticals as well as staff turnover. Interim assignments can lead to permanent work opportunities, including matches that neither the consultant nor the client would originally have anticipated. We don’t however, recommend people come to consulting with the goal of taking on one client assignment and then receiving an offer for a permanent role. The most successful consultants have a high level of authentic commitment to consulting for a meaningful period of time.

Consultancy platforms vary in their levels of support – and some don’t require their consultants to work exclusively for one platform. Peerpoint’s consultant relations team supports consultants in their transition from a permanent role or into a new market, providing feedback on assignment performance and working with consultants on development opportunities so they can leverage learnings from each new experience. There is access to technical support, research resources and lawyers and other experts across A&O as well as one-to-one guidance on challenging situations, and coaching (as required) on wider career planning and personal branding.

As regular clients often engage consultants concurrently or consecutively, the A&O client team and Peerpoint business team support incoming consultants as they prepare for interviews and start assignments. This gives them the confidence and knowledge to hit the ground running; creates an immediate peer group for mutual camaraderie and support; and ensures consultants uphold the brand of the wider Peerpoint community.

Building Your Professional Network and Brand

Asian legal markets are relatively small, so consultants need to quickly build a reputation for hard work, dedication and professional integrity. A wide network helps. We have a consultant community programme of educational events and training covering topical legal issues, legal and soft skills development as well as network-building social events.

Lawyers transitioning from a law firm or corporate legal department to legal consultancy need to manage their own professional presence and personal brand. This is about developing the right mind-set and skill-set to communicate their value with clarity and confidence when interviewing for consultancy roles, especially assignments in new sectors and practice areas. There is a strong focus on professional development for forward planning, and relevance for the future of legal practice. Peerpoint coaches work with consultants on assessing skills, development points, assignments and setting priorities that support their long-term career aspirations.

As legal consultancy becomes a well-trodden career choice, lawyers are increasingly using platforms such as Peerpoint to support their professional objectives, extend their marketability, capabilities and gain experience working with different organisational cultures and teams and broadening their professional network. Law is opening up as a portfolio career and legal consultancy has become a platform for transition and ambition.

For further information about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact stephanie.szeto@allenovery.com or visit Peerpoint’s website www.peerpoint.com.

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Senior Business Manager, Peerpoint, Allen & Overy

Stephanie Szeto manages Peerpoint, Allen & Overy’s flexible legal consultant resourcing business, in Hong Kong and Singapore. She has over 15 years’ experience in strategic business roles at top-tier international law firms and is passionate about working with legal professionals on their career development, and finding solutions to clients’ business needs. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Stephanie moved to Hong Kong in 2008.