Through the Looking Glass: Who Consulting Attorneys Really Are


There are some common misconceptions about attorneys who choose to work solely on contract, temporary or project-based legal assignments. A lack of familiarity with the modern-day consulting attorney model often leads hiring managers to conjure outdated conclusions about the caliber of a consulting attorney. In conversations with legal leaders, experience and expertise are often in question as hiring managers offer a skeptical look at the idea of hiring a consulting lawyer to handle niche projects or serve as a subject-matter expert for an immediate need. How can that lawyer possibly be experienced enough to hit the ground running within an organization they have little or no knowledge of?

The answer is in their resumes.

Consulting attorneys are no different than you. In fact, many legal consultants have 10 years of experience on average, attended outstanding law schools and have made several moves during their legal careers. Many have practiced in AmLaw 200 law firms and Fortune 100 organizations; some have deep experience in working with startups and helping companies go public. They specialize in myriad practice areas from real estate to privacy to ERISA. They are at different places in their careers and have just chosen an alternate path. In fact, it may be a path you consider at a different juncture in your career.

Here are a few common scenarios in which lawyers will pivot to consulting work:

  • Wants to Move In-House: For a law firm lawyer looking to make the move in-house, consulting roles are often the easiest way to get their foot in door and make that transition. An in-house role is a goal for many lawyers and being able to lend their skills to a company gives them an opportunity to get to know an organization and prove their value.
  • Looking to Change Industries: If a lawyer is interested in moving to a different industry where they do not have experience but have transferrable skills, then interim work can help make that transition possible. Hiring managers can often make the connection between existing skills and expertise for a short-term, project-based role more easily than someone hiring for a full-time, permanent role who is looking for an exacting skill set.
  • Interested in Growth Opportunities: Occasionally a senior-level attorney will simply be open to a new position that offers career growth potential. They have a natural hunger, where they want to be helpful, maximize efficiencies and learn more, so a consulting opportunity may just bring them the new challenge they desire. Then they can move onto another challenge in a few short months and add value elsewhere. This movement allows them to stay engaged and interested in the challenge in front of them.
  • Ready to Step Back but Not Stop Practicing: Senior lawyers who are nearing (or at retirement) age sometimes are simply ready to take a step back and no longer lead. Rather, they would prefer to share their knowledge and experience where it can best be used to the benefit of an organization. These senior lawyers can often step in as interim general counsel, serve in a training role for junior attorneys, or come in and handle a complex project to its completion.
  • Took Time Away from Practice: For one reason or another, sometimes, an attorney needs to take a break from practicing—most often this is because of a life event they need to tend to. When they are ready to get back to work, they will look to interim roles to ease their way back in. They will also take on interim roles while tending to these events to stay in the field but in a part-time capacity so they can continue working and using their skills on a timeline that fits their availability.

Working as a consulting attorney is just another career path for a talented lawyer. Think about where you see yourself in five or 10 years. Right now, you might be leading a legal team within your dream organization, but if life throws you a curveball, would you be willing to pivot in an entirely new direction to adjust? If life goes as planned, will you want more flexibility or variety in your career at some point? Consulting attorneys tend to make career choices based on their lifestyle preferences. These lawyers find excitement in changing companies and roles and using that flexibility to their benefit.

The hiring legal team benefits, too. Bringing in a knowledgeable, experienced attorney who can be quickly onboarded and safely begin a project without the need for heavy oversight or training saves ramp-up time and use of resources. Your legal team will then be able to continue doing their jobs without interruption or the need to take on additional work that may have overextended them. That type of extra workload can lead to burnout or disgruntled employees; having extra hands to support this workload reduces the stress on the existing team. The organization can also benefit from the cost savings of hiring a consulting attorney as their rate is usually much lower than that of outside counsel or other hiring solutions.

While consulting is not for everyone, for those who choose this path, they have fulfilling careers that simply do not follow the traditionally structured path to which we are more accustomed.


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