Legal consultancy: Have laptop, will travel

Cathryn Sutherland on how a consultancy business model is the perfect fit for those looking to benefit from the changing landscape of the legal workplace

The thing about modern working is that no one is sure where the boundaries are anymore.

There are generational differences within most workplaces, meaning we all grew up with different expectations of what ‘work’, and the workplace in general, should look like.

More and more businesses are offering agile working as an option. This means that employees can work from home, the coffee shop, or even Mum’s house, to complete their tasks. This shows a level of trust between the employer and employee, along with the expectation that this will secure a more loyal and productive worker.

The question is, in whose interests does this work?

From the employee’s perspective, there’s no longer a need to join the daily commute. Technology allows for instant access to any files or information they may need and, with clear work expectations laid out, they can achieve what they need to, when they need to. From the employer’s perspective, there is less need for day-to-day management and if deadlines are met, this creates an easy, symbiotic way of life.

However, while agile working is becoming a more accepted alternative for some, it asks more questions than it answers.

Some people enjoy being in the office with clear expectations of coming to work, doing the job asked of them and then, hopefully, switching off once they leave.

Granted, some may work long hours in the office, and may take work home, but, overall, work is at work and life is at home. With agile working, there is an element of the unknown as people work differently and, by not being supervised, how do we know if one person is completing their task within hours, while for others it takes days? As an employee, it can become unnerving having to justify, or thinking you need to justify, inputs and outputs.

The consultancy route

There is another option. Consultancy.

Again, this isn’t without risks. For many, the thought of leaving secure employment with the monthly salary, holiday and other benefits, and a business infrastructure, can cause them to shudder.

For those contemplating this change, there are other factors to consider such as, where you are in your lifecycle (i.e. are you buying a house, starting a family, etc.). But, more importantly, it depends on where you are in their career.

To succeed as a consultant, it’s useful to have a client following, although it’s not essential if you can go out and win new clients. If you’re not comfortable going out and making your name known, then choose the type of consultancy firm that provides business development support.

The clear difference between agile working and consultancy is that the line isn’t blurred.

The work that you do as a consultant is for you. You are no longer accountable to a greater entity, only to yourself. This prospect can appear daunting, but working for an organisation like Legal Studio, Setfords or Gunnercooke, can give you access to a market along with a business infrastructure to begin working with clients immediately, but doing it on your terms.

Every consultancy firm has different agreements with their consultants and it is all about what works best for you. The things to consider are: Is there a joining fee? Are there targets? What is your percentage split? And, what support do you receive?

The area of law you specialise in and what level you are at will provide different answers to those questions but, again, it is about what works for you.

Ultimately, everyone needs to understand what type of worker they are. Are you someone who works best in an office with secure employment rights; or do you work best out of the office with clear expectations; or are you the type of person who wants to choose how and when you work without boundaries?

Once you can answer those questions, it makes choosing the next step in your career that much easier.

Cathryn Sutherland is the office manager at Legal Studio