What Is A Consultant Solicitor?

what is a consultant solicitor

Understanding The Role of A Consultant Solicitor

If you’re a solicitor looking for more flexibility, you’ve no doubt come across the idea of becoming a consultant solicitor in your search.

The term “consultant solicitor” has been used more and more frequently in recent years, as the drive for flexibility and autonomy over our work lives becomes stronger.

But what exactly is a consultant solicitor and how do they differ from an employed solicitor? In this article, we will look at the key differences.

What Is A Consultant Solicitor?

A consultant solicitor works on a self-employed basis, rather than under a traditional law firm. They tend to practice through a firm and pay a proportion of anything they bill back as payment for the services they use.

Acting through a firm as a consultant allows the solicitor to access the benefits (e.g. public indemnity insurance, case management systems), whilst being able to choose more freely when they work and how much they take on. Many consultant solicitors also enjoy being more selective about the type of work they accept - choosing to focus on cases that they really enjoy.

Some solicitors work as consultants under multiple firms, giving the flexibility to work in more practice areas. For example, if the firm they work for only covers family law, they may choose to consult with a second so that they can take on general litigation cases too.

Consultant Solicitor vs Employed Solicitor

Whilst a consultant solicitor is self-employed and works for themselves, an employed solicitor works for the firm on contractual terms set by them.

The main benefit of staying employed rather than becoming a consultant is that your salary will be paid every month on the same day and all of your tax/national insurance is sorted for you. You may also find, as an employee, that there are more opportunities for professional development, as the firm wants to invest in you as an asset.

Employees will also continue to benefit from holiday pay, sick pay and pension schemes, amongst other benefits, whereas consultant solicitors will need to make provision for these.

On the other hand, employees typically have much less flexibility, so if you’re itching to go off travelling around the world, self-employment might be a better option. It can also be challenging for working parents if you are bound to strict hours in the office and don’t have easy access to childcare.

Consultant Solicitor vs Freelance Solicitor

If you’ve been considering self-employment as a solicitor, you’d be forgiven for thinking that freelance and consultancy are interchangeable.

In daily life, there is very little difference in how freelance and consultant solicitors work. Both completes legal work for their clients and have the flexibility to choose where and when they work. The regulatory obligations are largely the same and both are regulated by the SRA.

There are some restrictions on the way that freelance solicitors operate though. For example, a freelancer cannot hold client money or open a company to work through. They are also required to keep “adequate and appropriate” insurance as freelancers, but there is no requirement for it to meet the same minimum terms that apply to consultants.

Read more about the path to becoming a freelance solicitor here.

Skills of a Consultant Solicitor

If you’re considering becoming a consultant solicitor, you’ll need to make sure that your experience and background meets the requirements first:

Regulatory/Firm-Specific Requirements

Usually, to become a consultant solicitor you will need:

  • To be registered with the Solicitors Regulation Authority as a solicitor of England & Wales.

  • Have between 3-5 years of post-qualification experience (PQE).

  • Have no regulatory cautions or disciplinary records with the SRA.

  • Either a strong client following or the ability to generate a pipeline of clients quickly.

In most firms, consultants are not generally supervised, apart from some high level checks to ensure they are compliant. This is why a good level of experience is important to avoid the consultant feeling vulnerable without the support of more experienced solicitors.

If you have less 3 years’ PQE, some firms will let you join as a sub-consultant under an existing consultant, who will have ultimate responsibility for your work.

What Characteristics Do I Need to Be A Successful Consultant Solicitor?

- Entrepreneurial Spirit: If you have a good pipeline of clients already, then chances are you have the ability to sell to clients already. A positive attitude and proactive approach to generating work is important.

- Commercial Awareness: To be an effective lawyer, you need to be able to do more than recite the law and process paperwork. Your clients will expect you to have a wider knowledge of the societal and economic issues that might affect them. Being able to analyse the environment and deliver pragmatic advice relevant for clients is fundamental.

- Organised: You’ll be wearing lots of hats in your early days as a consultant solicitor, from business owner, to fee earning, to admin support and marketing. All these tasks with varying skillsets and energy requirements will mean a high degree of organisation is needed.

- Self-Motivated: No longer will you be working as an employee with clear targets and managers checking in on progress. You will need to be able to set your own goals and keep motivated every day to progress towards them.

Chances are if you’re reading this article, becoming a consultant solicitor might be something you’re considering. If so, you might want to learn more about the pros and cons of this path.

Conclusion

These days, there are lots of different options for solicitors that allows them to craft the career that they want based on their needs. If flexibility and uncapped earnings are a driver for you, then becoming a consultant or freelance solicitor will support this. If you're looking for a stable income and want to focus on the legal work without all that business stuff, you may prefer employment.

If you’re considering your next steps and venturing into self-employment, get in touch as there’s a good chance we might be able to help.

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