I. Defining Legal Consultancy
Are you looking for a career in legal consultancy? Let’s start by defining exactly what that entails. A legal consultant is someone who provides expert advice and guidance on legal matters to individuals, businesses, or organizations, and may or may not be a licensed attorney, but typically does not represent clients in court or provide legal advocacy like lawyers do.
That said, when it comes to the areas of expertise, being a legal consultant can offer a wider range of options to choose from and more flexibility than being a lawyer. Here’s a short list of different areas you could choose from.
- Contract Law
- Corporate Law
- Intellectual Property
- Employment Law
- Real Estate
- Regulatory Compliance
- Environmental Law
II. Requirements of a Legal Consultant
Now that we’re all on the same page and understand the difference between a lawyer and a legal consultant, let’s take a closer look at the basic requirements you need to become a legal consultant.
- Bachelor’s Degree: You should have a bachelor’s degree, and usually in a field related to law or your specific area of legal interest. Optional Law Degree: Having a J.D. is a plus and adds credibility. You do not need to take the bar exam to be a consultant.
- Legal Experience: You should have experience working in the legal field to develop a deeper understanding of legal processes, procedures, and the application of the law.
- Specialization: Usually, you should choose a specialization, such as a particular area of law or an industry. This can be done based on your educational background, work experience, or personal interests.
- Licensing and Certification: So, depending on the jurisdiction and area of practice, additional certifications are required. For example, when it comes to consulting on immigration, you must be a registered immigration consultant.
- Continuing Education: As laws and regulations change, it is crucial that you keep up and continue to educate yourself, take workshops, and attend seminars.
- Networking and Building a Client Base: Building a network within the legal community and establishing relationships can help you find clients and opportunities.
- Strong Communication and Analytical Skills: You should be an excellent communicator and analytical thinker at the same time. You should possess the ability to explain complex legal concepts clearly and provide valuable advice.
- Ethical Conduct: Maintaining client confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest, and upholding ethical principles is vital.
III. Two Paths for a Career in Legal Consultancy
A. From Lawyer to Consultant
If you’re a licensed working lawyer and you’ve decided to shift your career to legal consultancy, you’ll have to conduct a self-assessment of sorts to determine your specialization. This can be based on strengths, skills, and legal specialties that interest you. Make sure to research different consulting areas. Then from there, you’ll use your network and expand your contacts by attending industry events. Once you’ve gained some experience and built a portfolio, it’s time to cement your presence online with a professional website and LinkedIn profile.
Consequently, you’ll need to define your consulting model, target clients and pricing strategy, this will go hand in hand with any legal and regulatory requirements you’ll need to consider. After all that, it’s just about marketing, continuous learning, and seeking feedback. With patience and persistence, you’ll be on your way to a successful transition into legal consulting.
When you start as a lawyer, you already have a strong foundation in the law. People also perceive lawyers as more credible and trustworthy in legal matters. Additionally, working as a lawyer, you already have an established professional network in the legal industry that will make it easier for you to find clients – besides clients you’ve already worked with. In addition, most of the skills acquired as a lawyer are transferable to legal consulting, such as; legal research, writing, negotiation, and advocacy.
The most significant con is the income transition. It can be financially challenging when you first get started. On another note, depending on the jurisdiction, you’ll likely need to meet regulatory and licensing requirements. Also, you may face issues with clients expecting traditional legal services since you’re a lawyer. So, you’ll have to clarify your role.
B. Straight to Consultancy
Now, if you’re planning to go straight to legal consultancy, without being a lawyer, then there’s a slightly different route, but you can still end up where you need to be. To start, make sure you obtain a relevant education or expertise in a chosen legal domain. This could include a degree or industry-specific certifications. After that, you’ll have to start gaining the needed practical experience. This can be done through employment or internship in legal departments or related organizations. Once you’re on the ground, it’s up to you to build a professional network within the legal industry. You can do this by attending conferences and events to connect with legal professionals.
Here, it’s important to emphasize the importance of your online presence. You should have a website or LinkedIn profile that accurately represents your expertise and services. That said, it’s important for you to outline your business plan, services, target clients, and pricing structure. It’s important to reiterate that you need to be compliant with any legal or regulatory requirements for the type of consulting services you offer. After that, it’s all about marketing yourself, continuously learning, and listening to client feedback.
When you start your career as a legal consultant, rather than as a lawyer, it enables you to specialize in the chosen niche from the get-go. This can be attractive to clients seeking highly specialized advice. Choosing to go straight for consulting also makes your route much faster and cost effective. You won’t need to worry about licensing hurdles, and you can start your career immediately.
Unfortunately, some clients might question your legal expertise against someone with a law degree. Additionally, you will be building a professional network within the legal industry from scratch. That said, you’ll only be able to offer very specific services which will limit the type of clients you can service. On top of that, the legal consulting game is a very competitive one, which makes it even harder to establish yourself without a legal degree.
IV. Six Expert Tips for Aspiring Legal Consultants
Besides choosing your specialization, continually educating yourself, and adhering to ethical conduct, the below is a list of best practices and tips from leading legal consultants in fields.
Sharpen Your Communication Skills
As a legal consultant, your communication skills are key. There’s a multitude of ways to develop excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. Practice active listening, work on your presentation skills, learn to ask the right questions, and study conflict resolution techniques. It’s important to speak clearly, concisely, and with empathy when explaining complex legal matters to clients. Stay informed, be organized, and keep learning!
Be Client-Centric & Educate Your Clients
Understand your clients’ needs, set clear expectations, and tailor your services accordingly. Transparency is important to clients. Make sure to give your clients regular updates, and to have accessible communication channels open. Additionally, clients love it when you go the extra mile. Provide written material like guides or FAQs. You can even offer visual aids to illustrate timelines, or host workshops or seminars to empower your clients with the knowledge to make informed decisions.
Know Your Industry & Stay Current
Dedicate time to educate yourself deeply on the business and commercial aspects of the industry or niche you’re consulting for. This means attending seminars, workshops, and conferences to stay current on industry trends and updates. Use legal journals, industry publications, and newsletters that passively keep you informed. There are also many online legal research tools and databases to access up-to-date legal information, statutes, case law, and regulations. You can also turn to Professional Associations, attend Webinars, follow Podcasts, and refer to Blogs and Thought Leaders.
Marketing, Marketing, and more Marketing
Invest in building a professional online presence. For starters, having a website or profile on a platform like LinkedIn is a must. Make sure these landing pages are optimized for Search Engines (SEO), and that you’re consistently updating them. Second, be active on social media, and create relevant content that engages your existing audience and expands your reach to new potential clients. That said, encourage your existing satisfied clients to engage, or leave reviews and testimonials on these online platforms.
Tailor Billing to Client Preferences
When it comes to billing, be flexible. Have many options for your clients to choose from based on their preferences. You could offer hourly rates, flat fees, contingency fees subscription-based billing for ongoing services. That said, you can also have detailed fee estimates upfront, for every stage of a legal matter. Another thing to take into account is transparency. This means being clear in advance about your billing policies and procedures and providing itemized invoices that clearly breakdown the charges. Some clients like to have a “budget” option, where a specific budget is set on a monthly or yearly basis. If you have open and honest communication with clients, and you’re regularly updating them, it should go smoothly.
Legal Tech Skills & Efficiency
One thing that is sure to set you apart and give you the competitive edge you need is proficiency in legal technology. Having the right tools at your disposal, you’ll be able to efficiently manage multiple clients