Necessity is the mother of all invention. During the Great Recession, Mother was calling. Post law school graduation, new attorneys entered the legal market and were faced with dismal prospects--offers were rescinded, associates were being furloughed, and some law firms were offering fifteen dollars an hour for new associates—yes, you read that right—fifteen dollars an hour. If your options are to pick the best of a host of bad choices or to bet on yourself, always bet on yourself.
Come the rise of the legal consultant.
As an attorney, you’re trained to think outside of the box. If no jobs are available, the most obvious answer is to make your own job. The traditional thing to do might be to hang out the shingle and get to work, but if you’re a new attorney with no experience, that might seem daunting. Another option is to market yourself to small, mid-sized, or even big law firms or companies as a consultant. It’s the happy medium between being an employee for a firm, and working for yourself.
In 2011, when the possibility of working my dream job slipped between my fingertips, I decided to do something different. I set up a blog and documented my job search, providing tips for searching in a bad economy, and I reported back along the way.
It turned out what was “working” was my blog. Within a few weeks, I received an email from someone who had read my blog. They had a job for me. I would be a consultant.
My time was spent doing legal research and writing, the occasional court appearance. My contract ended after several months, and I hit the job market again. This time around, I got business cards, set up a website, and eventually, landed a contract at a fashion company doing commercial real estate leasing, managing business development, and drafting contracts.
As a legal consultant I’ve worked on contracts, demand letters, negotiation settlements, corporate formations and more. I’ve worked with start-ups, governments, private equity firms, and non-profits. I’ve provided business plans, reviewed business strategy, hosted a Congresswomen, and even coordinated LA Fashion Week events.
Pros and Cons of Legal Consulting
- Pro: You get paid for the time you work. Con: You only get paid for the time that you work.
- Pro: In some cases, you can set your own price. Con: In some cases, the price is set, and can be low.
- Pro: To an extent, your income potential is only limited by your imagination. Con: Pay rates can fluctuate dramatically, so you can get paid a little or you can get paid a lot.
- Pro: You can “take a vacation” whenever you want, barring money, time and project commitment constraints. Con: You pretty much have to take a “vacation” if you can’t find work—and “vacation” is just a fancy word for temporarily unemployed.
- Pro: You have built in mentors for each case if you are consulting on at a firm. Cons: You have inconsistent mentors or no mentors at all—mentors usually last for as long as the duration of the engagement.
So you want to be a legal consultant? Here are some strategies I learned along the way.
- Think outside the box. Do something different that makes you stand out.
- Create a plan. Don’t just stumble along and hope things work out.
- Be prepared. Create your business, a website, or be active on social media.
- Never stop learning. Take on pro-bono cases, or work for a reduced rate if you’re new to an area of law.
- Work product should always be exceptional.
- If you don’t know, ask.
- Find consistent mentors.
- Create standard templates for engaging with firms, businesses and individuals.
- Utilize consulting agencies.
- Keep trying.
- Never give up.
- Keep smiling. Smile when you meet people. Smile when you’re getting the job done. Smile with colleagues and business partners.
- Network, network, network. Networking isn’t limited to mixers and happy hours. You can network in the elevator, at the gym, or while shopping for groceries. Networking isn’t limited to building your business, it’s about building genuine relationships. Building your business is a pleasant side effect.
In ConclusionIt’s inevitable that things may not always go according to plan—but you can create your own career and you can create an income that is rewarding.