What’s it really like being a consultant lawyer with control over your own brand and business?
At Nexa, we are passionate advocates of the consultancy model which we believe is perfectly suited to the 21st century legal sector. You may have noticed that we’re never shy about banging the drum for this way of working which brings significant benefits to both our lawyers and their clients.
The dangers of group think
But we’re also conscious that we risk living in an echo chamber if we don’t stop and ask a few difficult questions from time to time. The dangerous consequences of “group think” have been well documented across many organisations and we are determined not to fall into that trap at Nexa.
At our recent round-table event in London, we discussed what it’s really like being a consultant lawyer with control over your own brand and business. We wanted to explore the negatives as well as the positives and encouraged our attendees to give their honest opinions – no sugar coating!
It not all work-life balance
The benefits of becoming a consultant lawyer are well rehearsed – freedom, autonomy, flexibility, increased earning potential. But the idea that becoming a consultant lawyer resolves overnight the work-life balance issues, often encountered by those in traditional law firms, is misleading. The very autonomy that can seem so attractive can easily lead to over working and under charging. If you don’t set your own boundaries, there is no one else who will.
For those leaving behind the camaraderie of a large law firm, the different experience of solo working can be a shock. An effective support network is therefore so crucial for well-being. Most consultant lawyers need to be part of a collaborative community who can offer help, support and friendship. There is also a place for mentoring, coaching and professional development provision for those setting out on their consultancy journey.
Not all lawyers make good businesspeople
As a consultant running your own business, you will have many more responsibilities than you may have had as an employed lawyer (or a partner) at a law firm. Being a business owner requires a different skillset. You need to be entrepreneurial and spend time growing a following, creating a business plan, and developing a USP. It won’t be lost on many that these are all, to use law firm jargon, “non-fee earning” tasks. As a business owner there is a lot of work to be done before you get paid for anything.
The best technical lawyers do not always make the best consultant lawyers (like they don’t always make the best law firm partners), as they may not be as adept at marketing themselves and chasing work. Business development skills such as networking and self-promotion often do not come easily to those academic introverts who have chosen law as their profession – and these types of skills are rarely taught comprehensively to lawyers.
I firmly believe that consultancy platforms need to look after their consultants – through what can be a tough learning curve – by offering training and support in business skills. These skills can be improved, if you have the right frame of mind to take on the challenge.
Collaboration is key
I also think that collaboration between lawyers (including consultant lawyers) and their client’s other professional advisers can be crucial to ensuring the quality of the service being provided (as well as its value). And you need that collaboration between the technicians, the business developers and the client relationship managers – to use law firm jargon again, the finders, minders and grinders. I see no reason why all those types of solicitors can’t exist, and all be successful, within consultancy models – if the right culture and environment is created.
Keeping it real
We want all our consultants to succeed, and we want them to be happy and healthy while they are doing it. That’s why we believe honesty about the realities of being a consultant lawyer is so important. We openly acknowledge there are some downsides to watch for, but we believe we offer effective support to overcome these which enables our consultants to thrive.
–Nigel Clark, CEO