Transitioning From Leader to Consulting Lawyer


Oftentimes, lawyers in GC or other leadership roles reach a point in their career where they’re ready for a change. They’ve reached the pinnacle of their profession and are now ready to step away from the responsibilities and demands of managing and leading strategy for the company, department, or firm. They want to simplify their professional duties and use their expertise to focus on what they originally signed up for: the art of practicing law.

As a result, we’re seeing many lawyers pivot from esteemed, lucrative leadership roles to legal consulting roles. Although this move is becoming more commonplace, hiring organizations may still question why a candidate would actively pursue opportunities they’re overqualified for or take a role with a lesser title. Candidates, for their part, wonder how to position themselves in order to successfully take that “step back” and achieve their ideal scenario.

Why would lawyers switch to a consulting role?

Understanding candidates’ motivations can help employers approach the hiring process with an open mind and without preconceived notions. Based on talking directly with many candidates, here are some reasons they’re opting to move away from legal leadership.

  • Relief from a high-pressure, high-stakes environment: Some lawyers are simply tired of overseeing all the people who are doing the hands-on, day-to-day work. They want to get back to their roots—back to focusing on the substantive, engaging, and inherently rewarding aspects of being a lawyer.
  • Improved work-life balance: A seasoned lawyer may reach a financial position where they have more choices in the professional avenues they pursue. They can afford to take a role where they come in and make an immediate impact—but don’t have the heavy responsibilities that consume nearly every waking moment. They want more control over their time, a harder line dividing work and their personal life, and more freedom to focus on family and leisure activities.

    To share a real-life example, I had a recent candidate who was high up at his organization and had been there 15 years. But he’d achieved maximum seniority to the point he nearly worked himself out of a job. That’s when he decided to explore consulting and interim roles so he could look for the perfect opportunity that came with less stress. 
  • Greater variety of work: For lawyers at every level, consulting offers the opportunity to expand their skillset and be exposed to novel sectors, practice areas, and types of work they might not otherwise experience.

How candidates can position themselves for success

What if you’re a GC or CFO looking to switch gears? How can you market yourself in a way that emphasizes the enthusiasm and value you bring, while de-emphasizing your lofty previous titles? Below are some tips to help you put your best foot forward.

  • Know what you bring to the table: During the interview process, you want to focus intensely on your skills, talents, and passions—not how you have climbed the career ladder. Underscore how your past experience can make you a unique asset to the organization in an advising capacity.
  • Focus your resume on individual skill sets, rather than titles or chronology: For example, if your goal is to do M&A deals, organize your resume by function and then highlight those specific experiences and accomplishments in each role.

  • Highlight the industry you’re passionate about: If you’re excited about healthcare or fascinated with AI or fintech, draw attention to that background in your resume.

  • Don’t list every single accomplishment: Doing so can be intimidating and increase your risk of appearing overqualified. Rather, focus on the things that most relate to the specific job you’re applying for.

Benefits of hiring an experienced former leader

When you’re hiring for a role, even a consulting one, your goal is always to hire the best, most qualified person for the job. Keep in mind that the best candidates are sometimes more experienced and looking to take on less responsibility. These “unicorn” candidates can often hit the ground running and make a dramatic impact on improving your organization and its systems. This is largely because they understand your point of few, having been in your shoes.

Former leaders also add to your company’s diversity. A premier group of attorneys includes all types of backgrounds. Diversity isn’t just about race and gender; it also means having lawyers of different ages and generations who bring unique experiences, knowledge, and insights.

What about expectations for compensation? When someone is working as a consultant, they often do so because they can pick and choose the exact role they’re interested in. The vast majority of lawyers who want to take a step back are not looking for same money they had in their leadership roles. They know what consultant roles pay—because they’ve likely hired for these positions before. In other words, they’re not it for the big paycheck, and they have more reasonable expectations in terms of compensation.

The bottom line

Increasingly, experienced legal leaders are embracing consulting as a path to meaningful, enjoyable work without the daily rigors of leadership. Organizations that recognize the “whys” of this trend will open themselves up to a distinctive type of consulting candidate that can help them gain a competitive advantage and achieve better business outcomes.

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