How to Change Your Career Path from Lawyer to Consultant

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 17, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Lawyers often develop many practical skills during their education and careers. This typically means they can transition to adjacent professions, such as consultancy, with the correct steps. By learning how to make this transition, you can consider this option as an alternative to being a lawyer. In this article, we define what a legal consultant is, explain how to transition from lawyer to consultant, discuss some benefits of joining this profession, and list essential consulting skills.

What is a legal consultant?

Legal consultants differ from lawyers in that they mainly act as advisers to their clients rather than advocates. While lawyers often give legal advice, their purpose is to represent their clients in legal matters. Consultants focus on providing legal advice and working with their clients to develop the potential strategies they can adopt. While the purpose of their advice varies depending on where they work, these specialist consultants can help clients avoid legal trouble or improve overall business efficiency. Many legal consultants also work with teams that may have active lawyers involved.

Related: How to Write a Consultant Resume (With Template and Examples)

How to transition from being a lawyer to a consultant

Making the change from lawyer to a consultant can differ in many ways, but the following is one efficient path:

1. Build a reputation as a lawyer

Many companies want legal consultants with an established reputation. Because they work in a more advisory role, these professionals typically make more subjective decisions than lawyers. A company may look for someone who not only understands the law but also how various legal decisions can impact clients. Ideally, the candidate has experience working with firms of a similar size and niche to those they intend to consult.

Related: How to Become an Independent Consultant (With Tips)

2. Understand the client's industry

Successful legal consultants benefit from understanding their client's industry because many companies focus their hiring on people with this knowledge. A legal consultant who understands related aspects of a business or industry, such as advanced accounting and best practices, can give more targeted and accurate advice. They often have a broader focus than a lawyer and inform clients how the law and their current business model might interact. In contrast, a lawyer typically focuses solely on what the law requires.

3. Consider a new degree

Some legal consultants decide to get a bachelor's or more advanced degree related to the business niches they want to consult. For example, a legal consultant may benefit from a degree in accounting or business administration to extend their knowledge. While many business lawyers already have an associated bachelor's degree, some believe that further strengthening their education can only help them. Degrees like engineering or architecture can also help a legal consultant become more attractive to large firms in related niches.

Related: 10 Types of Law to Consider (Including Salaries and Duties)

4. Use past relationships when possible

Establishing yourself as a legal consultant is often much easier if you convert your previous clients into new ones. You can consider the ones you built a strong relationship with and whether they may benefit from having a legal consultant. You can talk about how they might benefit from your new services without forcing them to act. At first, you may even offer them free or discounted advice to help display your talents and the advantages you bring.

As you bring in new clients, it's important to respect your previous clients' time as you try to build your clientele. Instead of asking them for their business frequently, you may want to contact them every few months to see if they require your services. By monitoring the frequency of your calls, you can maintain a solid relationship with these clients and increase the chances that they may use your services in the future. Having a consultant on full-time staff is infrequent. Most companies tend to hire a consultant for big projects or critical decisions.

5. Network frequently

As for many lawyers, networking is a critical component of building a successful consulting career. Going to industry conventions, holding official and unofficial meetings with company leaders, and networking with other consultants can all help your career. Being honest about your intentions while remaining friendly can help people remember you as a good candidate if they need your advice.

Strong networking provides good relationships that can lead to more business for a legal consultant. For example, a CEO may not need your services but may recommend you to someone else if they like you. In general, a good reputation and an extensive network facilitate finding additional clients.

6. Value consistent clients

Because permanent work is uncommon for a consultant, clients who offer consistent or otherwise well-paying work often become highly valuable. Companies may provide you with stable work intermittently, so even a few dependable clients can help you support yourself. While short-term clients also present value, regular clients make building a reliable career much easier. It's often helpful to work hard to maintain these relationships and consider offering benefits, such as discounts, for your best clients.

7. Put client interests first

As a consultant, you typically have a duty to your client's interests, bound by the law and business ethics. Like a lawyer, this generally involves keeping one's work private unless the client wants to share specific facts. It can also mean preventing potential conflicts of interest. For example, a consultant may often decline to help two competing clients. This helps ensure they can maintain privileged information with their client without simultaneously advising the other client and concealing known facts.

Reasons to transition from a lawyer to a consultant

Lawyers may choose to pursue this career for some of the following reasons:

  • Greater variety: While lawyers often specialize in a single area of law, consultants typically have more freedom to take on varied clients in different industries.

  • Travel: Consultants can have more opportunities for business travel than lawyers because they may have clients across the country or even the globe.

  • Similar skill set: Working in this position often uses many of the same skills lawyers develop in school and in their practice, such as communication, writing, editing, and negotiating.

  • Pay: Consultants typically earn a national average of $53,181 per year, although established legal advisers can earn significantly more because of the degrees required for their work.

Important consulting skills

Here are some skills that can help you succeed as a consultant:

Business sense

Consultants often benefit from understanding how businesses operate. By studying the dynamics of corporations, effective leadership strategies, different business models, and the effect of outside influences on businesses, they can better understand their clients. Often, a legal consultant helps a client choose which of multiple viable options may have the best impact on the business.

Analytical skills

Consultants frequently assess an organization's current policies and identify issues, potential risks, and areas of improvement. They often gather data and apply business, legal, and financial principles to their clients' companies. This analysis may involve multiple departments and team members of different backgrounds, all working together to accurately simulate the effects that certain decisions have on a company.

Problem-solving skills

Businesses hire consultants to develop solutions that save money, improve efficiency, and increase productivity. Many problems have facets unique to an industry or a particular client. A good consultant can identify key elements of a problem and generate solutions based on a client's desired outcomes.

Communication skills

Consultants present their findings and recommendations to their clients through written and oral communication. They often try to explain technical concepts in ways that their clients understand. Similarly, much of their work involves explaining legal matters to a client or their team to allow them to make meaningful, informed decisions.

Interpersonal skills

Consultants typically work and develop relationships with diverse personality types. They often talk with clients from different-sized companies, varied cultures, and teams working in various fields. Understanding the best way to approach individuals and keep them calm and comfortable is essential for consulting. This approach helps maintain relationships and ensure decision-making processes are efficient.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

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