As the demand for specialized legal expertise grows, many legal organizations look to independent legal consultants for help. These professionals provide a range of services to augment the internal capabilities of a law firm or legal department on a short-term or project basis.
It’s a nontraditional career path in the legal field, but one that can afford you autonomy that isn’t often available as a full-time employee. It can also be lucrative — especially if you have a background in business or an in-demand specialty.
If you’re drawn to a flexible schedule and a wide 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:
Eighty-five percent of lawyers polled in a 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 specialized advice on workplace legal issues, such as employee misconduct, unlawful termination and compliance infractions — they often find legal consultants to be more effective.
What do legal 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 specialized areas. Some 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 legal consulting 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 legal 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 become a legal consultant?
As more organizations realize the benefits of flexible staffing, they call on legal consultants for project-based work. To take full advantage of this 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 the groundwork for going solo by researching the demand for your skills and determining if you truly have an aptitude for consulting. Start building your personal brand by using LinkedIn and other social media sites.
Also consider issues such as business structure and insurance requirements. If you’re not working through an agency, larger companies may expect you to have a business entity, such as a professional limited liability corporation. You may want to get a federal employer identification number (EIN) rather than providing your social security number to clients for payment. Check with the board of professional ethics in your jurisdiction to see if any special filings are required to offer legal services. And you should determine what professional insurance you need to protect your personal assets and meet your clients’ expectations. Then you can move forward and pursue this next exciting phase in your legal career as soon as you feel you’re ready.
Need to hire a legal consultant? We can help with that too.