By Annalise Haigh

Annalise HaighLast year I read Evangelos Apostolou’s article, Your first 100 days as a GC. It got me thinking about the first “days” as a legal consultant — a flexible, gig-economy worker. How do we manage success? General counsel and American presidents can use 100 days as a success measure, but for legal consultants, much of the time our assignments are over within 100 days — we are not physically in the office, sometimes it’s only a few days a week, or an intense period for two to six months. So how do we successfully interact with our (and not permanent) workplace? I think it’s unique and quite different to starting as a new employee, and as a result requires quite a different set of skills.

For those unfamiliar with the term “legal consultant”, essentially we provide support to clients on legal strategy on a flexible basis. We do not provide legal advice, but having a legal background allows for a legal “business” perspective which provides greater value for clients. The roles of a legal consultant can vary significantly. Catering to start-ups, SMEs, MNCs and law firms, the type of assignment is always unique to the client:

  • a start-up might need ad-hoc legal support during a capital raising round or support with a key services agreement negotiation;
  • a SME might need on-going in-house legal support three days per week over a six-month period, while ramping up to a need for full-time in-house counsel;
  • a MNC might need full time support during a key transaction;
  • a company may need strategic support to help streamline their legal operations; or
  • a company may want to embark on a digital transformation to a smart contracting system.

The list goes on!

So what is a “typical” successful experience? Below is a guide to a successful first 10 days as a legal consultant starting in a new assignment. As noted above, assignments can vary, but this guide can generally be adopted to all types of assignments.

Day 0:
During the interview process and in the lead up to starting, ensure that you have tried to get a feel for the culture of the workplace — who you will be reporting to, the team you will sit in, and if possible, how they work. Legal consultants are comfortable with flexible work practices often working from home, but often a traditional workplace is not. Try to understand and/or set up these expectations in advance of walking into the workplace.

Day 1: 
As a legal consultant you’re normally hired for a specific task. It can be challenging walking into a new work environment, with set working practices that might be completely different to your previous experiences. As a legal consultant, we need to adapt to these challenges faster than a full-time employee. In order to have a successful experience some of the fundamental considerations are:

  • Plan. Quickly form an understanding of your end goal for the assignment, the deliverables, potential challenges, formulate a plan of attack, and set up checks to ensure that you’re on track to complete within the timeframe;
  • Listen. One of the most useful skills of legal consultant is having a high emotional intelligence. People are creatures of habit, and you’re coming in for a short time to support and advise the team. From day one trying to understand the dynamics and work practices of the team is key to a seamless assignment.
  • Stakeholders. Know the people in the business who you will interact with, get a feel for their level of experience, style of work and communication. Is the expectation that you’ll work independently? Or will you work closely with the team? Your role as a legal consultant is to adapt to the workings of the team. This doesn’t mean you throw out all your previous work practices, but you will need to be more flexible and adapt to how the business works.
  • Resources.  Consider what resources are available to you to assist you complete the goal of your assignment — people and information. Are there any restrictions?  Is there anything you could do to limit the restrictions? Tap into your network! If you have a question, talk to other legal consultants and tap into their knowledge.

Day 6:
You’re just over halfway through your assignment! Your next question is… how are you tracking on your plan and end goal? At this point it’s time to sit down with your key contact and update them on the progress (if you haven’t been working with them closely). Consider whether the assignment will need to be extended or whether the goals have changed?

Day 8 and 9:
Deliver your deliverable!  Don’t just wait until the last day of your assignment to finish the goals of your assignment. You’ll no doubt need time to sit down with your stakeholders and ensure they are happy with the work. Realistically, you would have been tracking closely with your key contact during the full assignment, but it’s good to have this date set in the diary.

Day 10:
Off-boarding.  If your assignment hasn’t been extended, make sure the right people know what you’ve completed, how they will use it moving forward and importantly, where it is stored in the client’s document management system. Say your farewells!

Day 11:
Take a break or contact KorumLegal to get your next assignment!

But what is a “successful” assignment? Achieving your deliverables is the most obvious answer, but as you can see being a consultant is more than just pumping out work. It’s about being adaptable and providing a real value add to the client. It is also about your own personal and professional growth in dealing with new and interesting challenges and becoming more perceptive in a wide variety of environments. You can read more about how legal consultants can simultaneously teach and learn here (well worth the read!). I personally, like to challenge myself to know that I provided more than what the client thought they needed and really added value.

There you have it! Legal consulting can be a really rewarding experience. If it’s something you’re interested in exploring, let us know!

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