Legal Career Options: How to Pursue a Position as a Legal Consultant

By Robert Half September 23, 2014 at 7:00am

As the demand for specialized legal expertise continues to grow, legal organizations increasingly are looking to legal consultants to provide a range of legal services to augment their internal capabilities on a short-term or project basis. The nontraditional path of legal consultant can afford you the autonomy that isn’t often found when working in a law firm or legal department. It can also be lucrative, especially if you have a business background or an in-demand specialty.

If you’re drawn to a flexible schedule and a variety of assignments, consulting could be a natural fit. Read on for answers to common questions you may have when considering a legal consultant career.

Who uses legal consultants?

There are many situations in which clients seek the services of a consultant:

  • More than half of the lawyers polled in a recent Robert Half Legal survey said they found it difficult to secure skilled legal professionals. Law firms need project-based lawyers who specialize in high-demand areas of expertise like litigation, healthcare, compliance, eDiscovery, data privacy and security, and records management.

  • While corporations typically employ in-house counsel, they often need extra help during peak workload periods and for projects requiring specialized expertise they lack internally. Companies seek experts with business and legal know-how to help with strategic planning, research and analysis and employee training.

  • Many small and medium-size businesses don’t have the budget to maintain full-time counsel in-house. For some matters, they engage the services of a law firm, but for others -- for example, when they need advice on workplace legal issues such as employee misconduct, unlawful termination and non-compliance infractions -- they often find legal consultants to be more effective.

What do consultants do?

The examples above are just a few of the possibilities for consultants. Project-based lawyers can assist with legal matters when a business decides to franchise, help a law firm optimize and strengthen its eDiscovery program, or help deliver favorable outcomes for an organization facing criminal or civil litigation. Corporations call on legal consultants for advice on mergers and restructuring and tweaking business strategies to maximize productivity and minimize liability.

What skills do I need?

Aside from a law degree and experience working as an attorney, consultants typically have foundational knowledge in one or more areas. Many consultants in the corporate world also have a master’s of business administration.

Your success as an independent contractor depends not only on your education and experience, but also on your interpersonal skills. In order to have a thriving consulting legal career, you need stellar communication skills and the ability to adapt to new situations. You must also have plenty of initiative, time management aptitude and a can-do attitude.

How do I market myself as a consultant?

The first step in embarking on an independent legal career is to stand out in the crowd. What is it about your experience, skill set and educational background that makes you a valuable asset, and in which fields? Identifying your strengths and potential client base will help you target your marketing efforts. Online and in-person networking plays a large role for legal consultants, who rely on positive word of mouth for referral business.

To remain relevant as a consultant, stay up to date on industry trends and changes that can affect your legal career. One good way to do that is to subscribe to blogs, attend conferences and join local legal associations.

How do I get started?

As more organizations realize the benefits of flexible staffing, they increasingly call on legal consultants for project-based work. To take full advantage of this growing trend, you can opt to go it alone, sign on with a specialized legal staffing agency or take a hybrid approach. Legal recruiters have extensive knowledge of the legal market and know where to look for consulting opportunities that match your skill set. Some agencies even offer e-learning and continuing legal education (CLE), which are good ways to polish your skills in between assignments.

If you’re considering changing to a legal consultant role, don’t quit your current job just yet. Lay down the groundwork for going solo by researching the demand for your skills and determining if you truly have an aptitude for consulting. You should also start to build your personal brand by using LinkedIn and other social media sites. Then when you’re ready, you can move forward and pursue this next exciting phase in your legal career.

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