Seven secrets of successful legal consultants

Setting yourself up for success

Obelisk Support’s L&D Partner, Lucinda Acland, explores the seven things successful freelance legal consultants do that set them apart.

As a pioneer in the freelance legal market, Obelisk Support has over 10 years’ experience of the practicalities of working flexibly, connecting busy clients with talented professionals who deliver great results. Whether it’s onsite or remote, fulltime, part time or ad hoc arrangements or a mixture of those working patterns, we have helped hundreds of legal consultants find the work/life blend that works for them. Here’s what we’ve learnt the most successful consultants do best.

#1 Know what you want

Successful consultants are very clear about why they’ve moved into flexible legal work and what they want to do. Reasons for stepping into consulting vary. You might want more control over your working hours or location. You may feel that consulting can give you more experience and variety. Or you may want to create space in your life for a side project, or be consulting as a step in a career transition. Equally, you may want to expand the type of work you do, or you may have developed a niche that suits you, either in a certain sector or a distinct practice area. All options are equally valid and having clarity about your motivation helps to build confidence with your clients and means you make stronger career decisions.

#2 Invest in your personal brand

Working with Obelisk Support means that you don’t have to do your own business development, unless you want to. However, you still need to put time and effort into your personal brand. Once you know what you want, work out how you need to come across, in person and on your CV, to secure the opportunities you’re interested in. Busy consultants all:

  • Refresh their CV and LinkedIn profile after every engagement
  • Focus on achievements in their LinkedIn profile and posts
  • Regularly refresh their professional photograph
  • Present well, in person and on video
  • Put time into nurturing their professional network.

For more tips and tricks, read our articles on building your personal brand and networking.

“You need to put time and effort into your personal brand.”

#3 Say “No”

When you’re clear about what you want to do, it’s easier to say “no” to projects that don’t fit the brief. It’s tempting to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes along, but if the logistics or type of work really don’t work for you, it’s better not to put yourself forward, or to step out of the process early, than take a project on that you can’t deliver. Be curious and don’t be afraid to say “Yes, but…” if there’s one aspect of an engagement that doesn’t work. For example, if you can travel into the client’s office once every two weeks, but not every day, it’s worth exploring if this would work for the client. If you can’t make an engagement work or it’s not right for you, know when to move on.

#4 Commit to learning

When you’re a permanent employee in a law firm or large company, learning and development is largely organised for you. When you’re working for yourself, you need to make the time in the year to keep your practice fresh. Consultants who thrive focus on all these areas, not just their legal technical skills:

–             Updates and market practice in their practice area

–             Success skills, such as building relationships or time management

–             New technologies, including workflow tools like Slack as well as legal tech.

At Obelisk, we help with our Move the Needle programme of online learning and our weekly briefing, as well as access to content from LexisNexis and MBL Seminars. Schedule time to learn something new each month.

#5 Start fast with new clients

Our most in-demand consultants are expert at starting a new role or project. When you’re working as a freelance legal consultant, you don’t have the luxury of 100 days to settle in. You need to hit the ground running, which means:

  • Meeting key contacts at the client within the first week
  • Identifying “early wins” on the work they’ve asked you to tackle.
  • Being clear about the information and resources you need to do the work and demonstrating that you understand their priorities and how they work.

If you don’t have something you need or the client’s priorities aren’t clear, always ask as soon as possible, so you can focus on delivering. Identify a couple of pieces of work that you can complete quickly and that are a priority for the client and deliver those as soon as possible. Ask for feedback, and act on it.

In terms of being a standout addition to the team, there are several things that you can do to make you stand out from the crowd. Clients always appreciate constructive suggestions in the right context, such as:

  • updating templates that are out of date or creating bank of precedents.
  • Operational insights such as efficiencies in processes, tools, or software
  • Training sessions for the wider team on sector developments.

#6 Connect and communicate

Great legal consultants establish good professional relationships built on trust. This is achieved through establishing effective communications, involving clarity of objectives, processes and problem-solving.

Make sure you understand the context of your role and how it fits into the legal function of the wider business by understanding:

  1. The culture of the organisation and their communication style
  2. How to manage and meet client expectations of your work
  3. The turnaround times for work and delivery time frame priorities
  4. The roles and responsibilities within the team and reporting on tasks

If you’re on a secondment, it’s really important to become involved with the team and actively reach out to your line manager at the client to establish a good clear line of communication. Understand if there are meetings you need to be part of, take an active interest in the organisation’s operation to ensure you can get the information you need to get your tasks completed efficiently and be proactive.

“Consultants can make all the difference, by having a solutions-driven focus, rather than being a problem identifier”

#7 Ask for help when you need it

Successful legal consultants are time-management superstars and become expert at setting and managing client expectations. Equally, they know when to flag up that they need to re-prioritise or they need help, information or resources to get the best result for a client. Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan. Being open and honest with your clients about any emergency situations or unexpected events, and showing them you are focused on finding a solution that meets their needs, helps you to retain their trust and their work. Choosing to work with a service provider like Obelisk gives you extra support and resources to tap into, find out more here.

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