When a businesses or organization needs expert advice, they often turn to a consultant. Also called “advisors,” these professionals specialize in particular areas or fields of practice. A legal consultant, for instance, provides guidance on legal matters in areas outside of a law firm’s or legal department’s ability. Though they often have the same education and training as attorneys, they work on a short-term or contractual basis. Keep reading to learn more about the Legal Consultant.
What Does a Legal Consultant Do?
Situations arise where businesses face legal issues during the course of operation. To solve these issues, some rely on the expertise of legal consultants. Legal consultants usually specialize in very specific fields of practice, such as real estate, records management, and data privacy. Often working independently, consultants identify, prevent, and solve various legal issues companies face.
The exact duties of a legal consultant depend on the legal issue, area of practice, and the level of involvement with the business. For example, a business legal consultant may investigate a company’s practices to ensure they do not violate wage and labor laws.
This might entail working closely with the personnel or payroll department to review records, training staff, and advising management on proper procedures. In other instances, a business needs guidance on a very specific issue, such as the legality of hiring an employee.
Along with providing advice, a consultant prepares necessary legal documents, which can include contracts, policies, and handbooks. In certain circumstances, a consultant also handles all legal communications when the circumstance involves another party. For example, during a merger, a consultant will take calls from the other company’s consultant or attorney.
Legal consultants can also provide services that supplement the capabilities of a legal department or law firm. They help lawyers struggling with a case, or even just certain aspects of the case. They may also work with a firm to improve business practices.
The consultant familiarizes him or herself with the firm’s various departments in order to evaluate the practice overall. They may then help create business plans, teach staff to incorporate appropriate policies, and help improve client intake strategies.
Professional Requirements to Become a Legal Consultant
An individual must attend law school and earn a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) to become a legal consultant. Prior to attending law school, he or she must receive a bachelor’s degree (B.S.), which involves four years of full-time study. Students can major in any field, but benefit from taking courses in government, political science, and criminal justice.
During the third or fourth year of the undergraduate program, they will take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The score of the five-part exam weighs heavily in the law school admissions process.
Once accepted into law school, students spend their first year taking standard required courses. This includes constitutional laws, contracts, property law, criminal law, and more. During the second and third year, they take elective courses related to their desired field of study. While attending law school, students can participate in internships to gain experience.
After receiving a Juris Doctorate, legal consultants can take the bar exam and obtain a license to practice law. While not mandatory, doing so improves job prospects as many employers prefer applicants with experience.
Additional Educational Requirements
To enhance career options in the field of law, legal professionals can go on to earn a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree. This degree gives degree allows for more advanced studies on specific areas of the law. Consultants that plan on starting their own business can earn a Master of Business Administration degree. Some law schools even offer dual degree programs allowing students to earn both degrees concurrently.
Additional Licensing Requirements
Some fields of practice require additional training and/or licensing. For example, to become a nursing legal consultant, the individual must obtain a nursing license.
Legal consultants with a state bar license must complete continuing education courses as required by their state. These courses cover general topics and offer additional training in specific fields. This keeps consultants up-to-date with constantly changing laws and case precedent.
Where Can You Work as a Legal Consultant
The options for where you can work as a legal consultant parallel that of a lawyer. You can become part of a traditional consulting firm or join a firm that specializes in in your specific field of practice. Many consultants start their careers and gain experience by working in larger firms. Some even begin with a firm in hopes of making partner in the future.
Another option involves becoming a freelance consultant and providing services on a short-term basis. Working on a freelance basis gives you more flexibility and control over your work environment. Unlike those employed at consulting firms, you choose your clients, the amount you charge, and the hours you work.
Both freelance and employed consultants spend most of their working hours in an office setting. They also travel to various locations to meet with clients and attend meetings.
How do Legal Consultants Get Paid
The type of employment largely determines how legal consultants get paid. In a consulting firm, the employer pays the employees either an hourly wage or salary. Typically, employees also receive benefits such as life insurance, vacation pay, and sick leave. However, they do not have control over the clients they take on, the amount charged to clients, or the hours they work.
On the other hand, freelance workers have complete control over the amount they earn and their billing method. They can charge clients and hourly rate or a flat-fee. Some also require a retainer fee. The client pays this fee and the consultant places it into a special account to use as they work on the case.
Legal Consultant Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide information specific to legal consultants. However, since legal consultants and lawyers perform very similar job duties, they have comparable salaries. According to the BLS, the median salary for this occupation is $119,250 as of 2018.
Geographical location and area of practice all play a large role in the exact salary earned. The amount of experience a legal consultant has also affects the salary.
Employment Outlook for Legal Consultants
The BLS predicts the employment rate for legal consultants to increase around 8% by 2026. This growth is average for jobs in the U.S.
How to Get a Job as a Legal Consultant
To get a job as a legal consultant, begin networking while still in law school. Join online professional groups or trade organizations. Once a member, you gain access to prospective contacts and schedules of events in which you can attend. You can also use on-campus services that help students enter the job market.
Once you graduate law school, adopt multiple strategies for landing a consulting job. Whether you intend on doing freelance work or joining a firm, submit your resume to local offices. Also, check employment related websites for available positions and respond to job posting. Stay proactive and contact firms after applying for the job.
|Degree Level||Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) strongly encouraged|
|License/Certification||Licensure in state of practice optional|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, interpersonal, ability to research, analytical|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||792,500|
|8% growth rate (average growth rate for lawyers)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$119,250* (median for lawyers)|
|On the Job Training||None|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the field are generally employed by large consulting firms|
(*Source: the BLS)