We are often asked by lawyers considering a move away from fee-earning in to professional support, what does the role actually involve? The answer is each and every PSL role is different depending on the firm and the number of PSLs already in the department - the role can be very broad or very focused on a particular aspect. However the following are key elements of many PSL job descriptions:
• Precedents and know how
• Marketing and business development
• Fee earner enquiries
• Firm wide PSL initiatives.
Also, different firms use different terminology for their professional support lawyers - in some firms they are known as PSLs, in others KDLs, or KMs. They are usually always qualified solicitors who after a period as a fee earner decide to take a different career path within private practice. Whilst the basis of their role is essentially to support the fee earners in their practice area with knowledge and information, it has evolved hugely in the last decade and become increasingly multi-faceted and strategic. Many have moved on from the largely internally focused roles of a few years ago, to roles which have a broader remit with an external client focus.
Why become a PSL?
• Quality of life
One of the most appealing aspects of professional support is that the hours are generally more predictable than fee-earning, as the work is less client-led. Obviously, when new legislation is introduced, or a particular project is ongoing, then hours may be longer, but this is not the norm and is normally determined in advance.
Also, many PSL roles are offered on a part-time basis (predominantly 4 but occasionally 3 days a week), often with the flexibility of some home working.
• The discipline of law
As professional support concentrates more on law as a discipline, rather than a means of completing a transaction, it appeals to those fee-earners who feel they have moved away from the black letter of the law and miss it. A professional support role often means you can enjoy the analysis of law without the pressure of client demands.
• Exposure to other skills
Professional support roles often include elements of marketing and education, exposing PSLs to new areas they might not gain access to as fee-earners. These appeal particularly to those who enjoy mentoring and business development.
What are my long term prospects?
Professional support has evolved hugely in the last decade. Previously it was regarded as a family-friendly reduced hours alternative to fee-earning. It is now a career option in its own right, with a clear path for career development and this evolution has given PSLs real scope to change their careers.
For ambitious PSLs there is no glass ceiling. Professional support now provides an established career path, and as you become more senior, Head of PSL roles become more and more strategic, involving the standardising of know how and training across the firm and the implementation of new initiatives relevant to both fee earners and clients. Boundaries have become broader and innovation and strategy are now buzzwords commonly used.
Also, at some of the larger City firms senior PSLs have been awarded partnership, and this may become more widespread as the role develops further and the huge value of the professional support function is recognised.
Are there any professional support options outside of private practice?
For those lawyers who want to break away not only from fee-earning but private practice as well, there are a number of options available with information providers who employ a large number of experienced lawyers across a broad range of specialist areas. This provides a superb opportunity for those who want to be part of a dedicated, fully supported know how environment.
What is it really like to leave fee-earning behind?
Below are some comments from PSLs we have placed, describing the motivations behind their move into professional support, and how they found the day to day reality of their roles.
“Being a PSL gives me the opportunity to get a bit closer to the law itself - I’m able to spend more time focus¬ing on legal developments and looking at ways in which we can best leverage those to our clients’ advantage. You also have more control over your time, which brings both benefits and challenges – It means you don’t have to worry about the dreaded 5.30pm call on a Friday afternoon from a client, but you also have to be disci¬plined about organising your work. But most fundamentally, what I enjoy about the PSL role is its diversity. Yes, you do the classic things that people think of when you talk about PSL work, such as current awareness and drafting precedents, but in addition there are strong business development, training and mentoring aspects to the role which means it always stays interesting. I’m very glad I made the move to becoming a PSL, and I haven’t looked back since.“
Employment PSL placed at Top 10 City firm.
“Over a year ago I changed my career from being a senior M&A associate at a US law firm in London to being the sole PSL in the corporate team of a mid-sized UK firm. I quickly adjusted and thoroughly enjoy my new role. Being the sole PSL in my firm gives me a tremendous amount of freedom in shaping and defining my role. I work almost entirely independently whilst being very much part of the team, and set my own goals and dead¬lines. I am involved in all areas of professional support: training (both internally and of clients), current aware¬ness, giving advice to fee earners, business development and maintaining precedents. The most striking differences to my previous career as a transactional lawyer are the independence I enjoy in structuring my work and the improvement in quality of life I gained by being able to have full control over my working hours whilst at the same time still having a challenging and varied job.”
Corporate PSL placed at mid-sized City firm.
“As a professional support lawyer, I enjoy the freedom to focus on law rather than transaction management as well as using my experience as a fee-earner to improve procedures and knowledge organisation within my team with a view to making life easier for fee earners and improving profitability. Being a trusted adviser to all levels of fee earner within the team and working with people from all parts of the firm in doing my job is another rewarding part of the PSL role. “
Banking PSL placed at US firm.
If you would like any further information about life as a PSL or to discuss specific opportunities, please contact either Lynne McCarroll at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jon Garrett at email@example.com