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Is consulting now ‘the 3rd career path for lawyers’?

Inflation may be influencing lawyers’ decisions to work more from home, but such economic pressure is just one in a range of factors leading such professionals to re-evaluate what they want from their legal careers and how best to structure their working weeks.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 09 December 2022 Big Law
Is consulting now ‘the 3rd career path for lawyers’?
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Recently, Lawyers Weekly ran a poll on its LinkedIn page, inquiring about the extent to which inflation dictates the amount of time that legal professionals work remotely, as opposed to coming into the office. The results of that poll are below:

The poll does not, of course, constitute a scientific study, and it should not be taken as such. However, it is interesting to observe just how many of Lawyers Weekly’s subscribers view current levels of inflation as at least somewhat of a factor in determining how and where they work on any given day.


The presence of such economic pressure, which may only get worse in 2023 if a recession does indeed come to pass in Australia and/or in other major jurisdictions, could well mean that the advent and mainstreaming of hybrid or remote working arrangements are increasingly long-term arrangements.

Few, if any, leaders in law still presume that working life will soon fully revert to pre-pandemic conditions. However, there are certainly some, including the BigLaw partners quoted here, who perceive a need for emerging practitioners to patronise the office more often.

Inflation may well keep that demographic away from the office for a while longer. And, in the interim, the prospect of vocational pathways such as contract and consulting work may be more enticing for those who now see flexibility and autonomy as non-negotiables.

The current climate and vocational considerations

In a conversation with Lawyers Weekly, LOD head of business operations Anita Thompson said there is “no doubt” that the current economic environment has and will continue to directly impact recruitment, retention and how people work. 

“The current labour market is unique — demand for talent is extraordinarily high across all industries, particularly in the legal market. Set against this agitated and in-demand workforce is the spectre of recession, causing many lawyers to consider their futures,” she detailed.

“This is leading some lawyers to search for better options while remaining in their current job — something as old as time itself but now repackaged as ‘career cushioning’. It’s just the latest in a line of alliterative workplace trends.”

Everyone, Bowd chief executive Fionn Bowd noted, wants to keep costs down.

“Going into the physical office requires transport costs, coffee and meal costs, more office clothing, for some people more use of makeup, more frequent haircuts and nail maintenance. There is nothing economical about going into the office, and a lot of money [can] be saved by staying at home,” she posited.

Rachel Carter, who is the head of Peerpoint in Australia, agreed: “The effects of the pandemic have led to lawyers re-evaluating what they want from their careers. Many chose to pursue legal consulting, and the flexibility it offers — in terms of how, when and where they work — was a key deciding factor.”

The benefits of legal consulting

The legal consulting market in Australia, Ms Carter submitted, is “quickly maturing”.

In light of such maturation, she proclaimed, it is now seen as “the third career path for lawyers”, alongside working in-house or in private practice.

“For lawyers, the benefits of legal consulting are wide-ranging: whether that’s more control over their time to balance professional and personal ambitions, pursuing a passion, business idea or studies, or spending more time with family, they have the opportunity to work on assignments in a wide range of sectors, which afford them variety and enable them to broaden their expertise,” she listed.

“This experience gives them a competitive advantage, either for a continued career as a legal consultant or to be able to move towards their goal of a certain type of permanent role in the future.”

For Ms Bowd, the realisation on the part of lawyers that work can be done not only from home but from anywhere is starting to encourage more people to think about where they make their home.

“They could move to a less expensive suburb further from the city, or even to a regional centre.  My family and I live over an hour outside of Melbourne in a beautiful community with housing that is significantly less expensive than the areas where most lawyers live. My lawyer partner and I have gone from travelling into the city two to three days a week pre-pandemic to pretty much never going in, post-pandemic,” she reflected.

“I can only imagine that greater costs of mortgages or rentals, plus all the other inflationary costs we’re already experiencing, will have many more lawyers asking themselves if they should now do something similar.”

A buoyant labour market

In such a buoyant labour market, Ms Thompson advised, lawyers have more choice than ever in their careers and in selecting organisations whose values, culture, and work practices align with their needs.

“The hybrid working model, which was once frowned upon, has become more normalised and has proven to be a way for lawyers to work successfully. For in-house lawyers, working with flexible legal providers can radically boost your exposure to different sectors, [and] widen your vocational lens,” she outlined.

On the employer side, Ms Thompson added, it is an interesting time.

“When you combine the movements in the labour market with inflation and economic turbulence, organisations are moving away from only considering the traditional way of hiring (i.e., permanent staff),” she said.

“Instead of one full-time lawyer performing a role, they can engage with a flexible provider who can provide multiple contractors. This can help save costs, boost their skills portfolio and ensure the utilisation of their lawyers is fit for purpose.”

Looming opportunities

Post-pandemic, Ms Carter said, there is “much more scope” for legal consultants to work remotely.

“Our clients are becoming increasingly comfortable with remote working arrangements, and the tight global talent market is encouraging them to think creatively about sourcing great talent on a remote basis,” she said.

“Some roles are entirely remote — our international clients, for example, are often very interested in tapping into high-quality legal consultants out of Australia.”

Looking ahead, Ms Bowd said that she sees “absolutely massive” opportunities” for people who are interested in working flexibly over the long term.

“It is now the rare case that both the lawyer and the law firm client are in the same city. When it occasionally does happen that way, we often find the firm doesn’t even need the lawyer to come into the office,” she said.

Her company does bespoke recruiting in addition to contract placements and noted that “almost all” of Bowd’s micro-firm clients are fully or mostly remote firms, with those businesses performing exceptionally well.

“All you need these days is a laptop, a website, and an unrestricted practising certificate, and you can set up your own law firm overnight,” she said.

“If you think laterally about sourcing clients not only from traditional places but from unexpected places (like other lawyers who need an extra pair of hands), you can get enough work to match or exceed your current salary. Add in lower living costs by moving somewhere less expensive, and suddenly you have autonomy and freedom where before there was financial stress and work anxiety.”

“I can’t recommend it highly enough,” Ms Bowd surmised.