What impact has the pandemic had on lawyers’ attitudes to legal consulting?
Initially, the pandemic resulted in a slowdown in the flexible resourcing market. However, it has been buoyant again, particularly over the last 10 months. One reason is that many more lawyers switched to consulting over this period as part of a trend that some economists are dubbing “the great resignation”. Millions of people are now using the unprecedented disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic as an opportunity to re-evaluate what they want from life and assess how their careers can make those goals happen.
“A lot of people are rethinking their careers and looking for the variety, control, and new learning opportunities that legal consulting brings,” says Marie Kirby, Head of Talent at Peerpoint. “In-house lawyers, for example, can sometimes hit a career ceiling and see fewer options to progress, so legal consulting offers different challenges and opportunities in new environments. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest, and this change can give their career the boost it needs.”
In terms of client demand, Peerpoint has seen a very sharp rise in clients seeking out resourcing solutions as in-house legal teams experience budget constraints and resourcing challenges. “There is a clear talent shortage for permanent hires, which is where the flexible and short-term solutions that Peerpoint and similar providers offer is key,” says Helen Libson, Global Engagement Manager.
Are these trends consistent globally, across markets?
For the most part, yes. In Asia, for example, Peerpoint is also seeing a marked rise in lawyers turning to consultancy. “However, this is being driven less by a need to re-evaluate life priorities and more by an increase in opportunities,” says Georgeanna Mok, Resourcing and Business Management Executive, Asia. “As economies here start to rebound from the pandemic, there is greater demand for the legal services that can help businesses facilitate growth.”
Demand has been compounded by a talent shortage. In corporate hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, the pandemic saw an acceleration in senior lawyers taking early retirement. At the same time, many expatriate lawyers who had built careers in Asia moved back to their home markets to avoid the travel restrictions on when they could reunite with family.
“These shifts, coupled with the organisational restructuring, layoffs, and hiring freezes also associated with the pandemic have left a significant gap in the mid-to-senior level legal talent pool,” explains Felicity Warren, Senior Client Development Manager, Asia. “That’s proving a real challenge for the global organisations now looking to increase headcount in their Asia offices as economies start to open up again across the region.”
Peerpoint is seeing organisations, especially in the financial services sector, scrambling to fill open positions. “Some firms are also aggressively competing for legal talent by offering much higher-than-average salaries,” Warren says.
“All this is resulting in many more corporate legal departments turning to flexible legal resourcing to fill their talent gaps with top-quality interim and project-based support. At the same time, there’s been a rise in permanent job offers for consultants after they finish their contracts, indicating that this is very much a talent-driven market right now.”
Looking ahead, how might this play out over 2022? What are you expecting to see over the next six months, at least?
The demand for interim legal resources will likely keep rising as businesses adapt to the shifting post-pandemic market. Employers seeking to fill talent gaps are eager to avoid delays caused by traditional recruitment processes, especially in firms already impacted by pandemic-related cost pressures and headcount freezes.
“In the U.S., deal teams remain busy,” says Amie Davidson, Head of Peerpoint U.S., “As a result, we are seeing sustained demand from clients for transactional lawyers, particularly at the mid associate level. For a lawyer considering whether to make the move from private practice to an in-house role, short-term assignments can be a great way to gain in-house experience at a variety of organisations before committing to a permanent position.”
It’s also likely that the pandemic and its economic consequences will continue to present some organisations with additional challenges, as out-of-the-ordinary matters such as disposals, insolvencies, and disputes arise. Such issues require specific legal skill sets that may not exist within current teams.
“In Asia, Peerpoint is also seeing especial demand for short-term personnel in the burgeoning technology space. Consultants with the skill sets and interest to work in this area are particularly hot commodities right now,” says Donna Titley, Talent Development Manager, APAC.
“But across the board, there is an ever-increasing range of options available for lawyers seeking to leave the traditional law firm or in-house legal environment and embrace the ability to chart their own career course, while still having the support and resources of a global law firm.”
What are the key things lawyers and consultants should bear in mind as we head into 2022?
Despite the ongoing uncertainties associated with the pandemic, as demand continues to increase and flexible resourcing becomes more fully established in the mainstream, this is an especially good time for lawyers to consider legal consulting as a career option.
That might include legal consulting for a period, then moving back into a permanent role, or taking time off to pursue other interests before coming back to consulting again. “We have so many great opportunities right now that offer more flexibility in how and where people work,” says Kirby.
Azara Digan, Peerpoint’s UAE Business Manager, adds: “Another consideration for many lawyers is specialism. Some potential consultants perceive their experience is too specialised or too generalised for consultancy. In the Middle East we see a real melting pot of people from all sorts of international backgrounds which means there are some really unique opportunities. Don’t count yourself out because you think your experience won’t fit consulting. Nine times out of ten after a conversation with our team, we find that there are more options for you than you initially realised.”
Making this shift might seem daunting but the team also points out, Peerpoint isn’t just about sourcing roles. “We offer tailored coaching and support so lawyers can succeed as legal consultants. Having access to A&O and its resources and networks also differentiates us in the market by connecting consultants to a top law firm without necessarily needing to work for one,” says Libson.
Kirby puts it this way: “We actively help people move through career stages or change direction in the flow of work. It’s really all about building careers and supporting consultants to be the best they can be.”
What other opportunities has the pandemic brought about for legal consultants?
Around the world, lockdowns forced organisations to speed up a switch to digital ways of working. Firms everywhere beefed up their remote working and virtual conferencing capabilities, and as a result, there is now considerably more scope for legal consultants to work remotely for foreign clients.
“Some roles are entirely remote – if clients can’t source the right talent in their local market, they’re often open-minded about someone doing the role from another location. Ultimately, they want the best people,” says Kirby.
In Asia, Peerpoint is seeing an unprecedented number of opportunities for consultants to work on projects for jurisdictions they are not based in. “For example, we’re currently partnering with a consultant who has an option to work for a bank in the UK, a fintech in the UK and a fund in Dubai, all without leaving her Hong Kong base,” Warren reports. “For lawyers looking to gain international experience, pandemic-related travel restrictions need not act as an insuperable barrier.”
Find out more
To learn more about Peerpoint and how it might benefit you, please contact a member of the team:
Nikki Pantges in Australia
Georgeanna Mok in Asia
Lucy Hamblin in the UK
Azara Digan in the UAE
Amie Davidson in the U.S.
You can also take a look at our latest job opportunities here.