The new landscape

As law firms seek new ways to increase capital value and drive profitability, alternative business structures (ABSs) are proving an appealing vehicle to do so. This brings with it great opportunity for business services professionals to help firms make the transition. Even for firms that don’t go down the ABS route, we are seeing business services professionals now playing a pivotal role in driving a firm forward.

These roles are increasingly being considered much less back office/support in their nature. Roles and individuals are becoming less administrative and more commercial. Individuals have accountability directly attributable to the success of the business and they are and should be required to make big and quick decisions. Firms who make the transition to ABS status also have the opportunity to allow non-lawyers to take on equity partner status and have a genuine stake in the business.

With business services roles becoming more senior, so too are such positions more attractive to talented professionals not only within the legal sector but from outside the profession too. Where once there might have been the perception of relatively little career progression opportunities for business services professionals, law firms can now offer far more structured career frameworks across their HR, finance, IT and marketing and BD divisions – all of which have expanded massively in recent years. To head up a business services team in a large law firm is now a leadership role to rival some of the best corporates can offer, so attracting a wider range of candidates.

More law firms too recognise the importance of sourcing talent from outside the sector – not only to broaden the available talent/recruitment pool but to bring in fresh skills and ideas from other industries. Such professionals can have a powerful impact on a firm’s development, when combined with existing teams who can deliver real expertise in the specifics of legal service delivery. No wonder perhaps that we are also seeing a real blossoming in new kinds of business support roles as firms look to capitalise on the range of skills on offer.

Just in the past six months, for example, we have seen an increasing trend of firms looking to hire individuals who can effect change, improve processes and efficiency (and thereby reduce costs) and manage large scale projects/programmes. Account managers, pricing specialists and senior strategy and business management roles are all becoming increasingly popular.

Whatever the job title, though, what is clear is that roles are unique to the firm they exist in – each has a slightly different ‘flavour’ and requirement for a specific skill-set. A typical career path once saw individuals moving up the food chain by transitioning between law firms. Firms found comfort in individuals who knew and understood the legal partnership model – and would invariably opt for the ‘safe’ option. Now they are seeking out candidates who can contribute something unique to meet the specific and sophisticated needs of the recruiting firm. Their search is therefore getting broader while the job specs demand a higher level of sector and/or skill expertise. And firms will wait to ensure they get the right candidate.

This will make moving between firms harder for those who are merely hoping to use a new job to move up the ranks of seniority. But it does open the doors to those who can offer the right skills to make a real difference.

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