Since the launch of Totum in 2012, we have seen many new business services roles emerge in law including in wholly new areas like pricing, project management, process improvement and innovation. But an interesting trend that we have seen more recently is how this has lent to an increasing blurring of the lines between once distinct business services functions.

Just ten years ago, candidates would typically work in a narrow function – HR, finance, marketing or IT (as well as other sub-groups like knowledge management and risk). Candidates would choose a functional area to specialise in way back in their career and that is where they could expect to stay. Not any more.

Break out


Opportunities are now opening up for business services professionals to move beyond their functional silos into roles that help firms meet broader and firm-wide objectives. Examples include a BD and marketing professional who, having had her firm agree to sponsor her to do an accountancy qualification, moved successfully into general management. She is now in a Director of Operations role for the firm’s banking and finance group. Other examples have seen HR Directors becoming COOs, or creative sparks from a variety of functions moving into innovation roles.

No doubt the escalation of new roles has contributed to this trend. Take internal communications as an example, which is still relatively new to law and by its nature doesn’t sit neatly in any one traditional function. Consequently, such roles might sit across both marketing and HR as firms promote their Employer Value Propositions and Employer Branding. These professionals must be adept at plugging into the different functions to achieve engagement and consistent/clear messaging both internally and externally.

Other reasons for the blurring of the functional boundaries include:

  1. The need for senior business services professionals to be ‘catalysts of change’. We see this on a growing number of job descriptions, as firms recognise that uncertain markets only increase the need to adapt and innovate. And with their broader commercial expertise, business services professionals are in a prime position to lead that process – if they can be freed of functional limitations.
  2. Offering broader or alternative roles in law also offers law firms the opportunity to retain great business talent. In BD and marketing, for instance, it is not uncommon to find people moving on after two to three years. With more options to move into different roles, this talent may well be more likely to stay.  

Seize the day


So what does this mean for business services professionals in law?

Broader remits, greater authority to make a firm-wide difference, the acquisition of new skills and capabilities – all this has to be good news for business services professionals. But taking advantage of the trend also means stepping up and proving willing and able to embrace change and broaden horizons.

For those aspiring to such roles, we would offer the following advice:

  1. Make a point of knowing what is happening in the firm through networking. Get to know those who have taken on new cross-functional roles, find out how they got to where they are, and, wherever possible, seek their support for your aspirations. You may find someone willing to mentor your next steps.
  2. Wherever possible, volunteer for projects that take you out of your function and into broader business areas of your firm. If there isn’t much going on in this respect, consider coming up with ideas yourself that might improve cross-functional collaboration.
  3. Think about whether qualifications might help you progress your career in a new direction. We know of BD managers who are now senior legal project managers (LPM). Candidates with experience of law are in high demand for LPM roles – a PRINCE II qualification or equivalent may propel you to the top of the candidate shortlist.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for your firm’s support. Use appraisals and other catch-up opportunities to articulate how you would like your career to develop and suggest ways in which your firm could help you (sponsoring you to train or giving you access to projects that will build your skills).
  5. There is also opportunity for those of you who are not currently in law, but would be interested in joining in one of these new and emerging roles. Many firms ideally look for those with law firm experience, but in areas like project management, there is a shortage of good candidates. That is encouraging firms to look more broadly - some are now prioritising project management skills over direct legal experience.

If you are still unsure of what options might be available to you, please feel free to contact us here at Totum. We see these trends first-hand and know the kinds of candidates who are snapped up for these opportunities. We can provide you with guidance that will help open up your career to new possibilities in law.

It is great to see law firm business functions continuing to evolve at such a rapid rate. From business services functions manned by a single person to sophisticated teams driving firm-wide and often global objectives, business services professionals are now key to shaping the law firms of the future.





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