Whether you’ve stopped learning and progressing, or become tired of your specialisation and feel unchallenged, one solution may be to look beyond the permanent job market and commit to a series of smaller, incremental steps, that together, could allow you to retake control of your career.
Legal consulting might seem like a bold choice, but in reality, it’s become more mainstream. It enables lawyers to learn new legal skills and to make progress at a speed which is invariably faster than can be achieved in a permanent role, as well as allowing more flexibility.
There are many misconceptions when it comes to consulting, for example its perceived low status, that it represents the end of ambition or that it’s a one way street that prevents a lawyer from returning to a more traditional way of working. All of these are either outdated or unfounded.
Traditionally, there were two main ways of working as a lawyer, either in-house or within private practice. Legal consulting was considered to be a low status distant relative. However over the past few years, consulting has become an accepted third way of working and has been systematised and professionalised. It is now recognised by both magic circle law firms and their leading clients as an effective and flexible resourcing solution.
Consulting is an integral part of the next wave of advanced delivery strategies for legal services and has been instrumental in helping clients and law firms address and adapt to the disruption taking place within the legal sector.
The recruitment process, consultants now have to go through, has become more rigorous to ensure they have the right skills and the necessary aptitude to thrive as self-employed individuals.
Ambition and professional growth
If you are an ambitious lawyer, a consulting career can allow you to take calibrated risks which, when combined with a commitment to quality legal service delivery, can result in genuine career progression.
The boundaries to change are often less rigid as a consultant and the speed in which new skills can be learnt and consolidated is far shorter. If you’re willing to ‘stretch’ into roles that are slightly outside your specialisation, you’ll be able to acquire new skills, build confidence and start a virtuous circle of continuous development.
Operating through a consultant platform, particularly one that is affiliated to a law firm with access to leading clients and interesting roles, will no doubt enhance your CV. Two years as a consultant can easily result in two or three varied assignments and experience of distinct client environments. This facilitates professional growth and a refining of legal and commercial skills.
Although consulting suits the majority of lawyers, you are your own career manager and may continue to strategically scan the job market for opportunities. This could result in a return to permanent employment and, in that situation, the accumulation of consulting experience, weighs in your favour.
Future proofing your career with the right platform
When you are responsible for your own development, choosing a consulting platform that provides access to integrated coaching and career development opportunities will help accelerate your growth. A well-chosen platform will offer personalised and expert support as well as access to a community of like-minded peers, providing a sense of belonging. Such resources enable you to refine your goals and evaluate your career in a supportive and objective environment.
When looking at potential providers, my advice would be to assess their capabilities thoroughly. Some of the key things to consider are: their experience and specialist knowledge, whether they have adequate resources and capabilities to support you; their understanding of lawyers and the legal sector; whether they’ll be able to provide access to opportunities with good quality clients and whether they’re committed to identifying and facilitating new challenges for you once you’re on their panel.
Careers have changed considerably over the last decade; the job for life has faded away and the average time with each employer is shortening. Employee expectations are also changing as lawyers, particularly junior entrants to the profession, are less willing to limit themselves to a single employer, type of work or even occupation.
Many consultants, while remaining engaged with their legal careers, sign off for a few months, to pursue second careers as artists, writers, athletes, startup founders and academics or to more fully immerse themselves in family life. Ultimately, consulting can help you set the boundaries of your working life, whether you want to allocate more time for family or personal priorities and interests, talents or passions. It also offers the prospect of revitalizing your career, rekindling enthusiasm, and helping you get unstuck.