The rise of the undead lawyer

7 04 2010

One thing that has intrigued me over the last twelve months is the number of former lawyers who’ve ended up in really interesting, non-traditional roles in private practice. It’s not easy to pigeon-hole the type of role into any particular category: business development? knowledge management? talent development? strategic support? The roles span all of these and more. What interests me is that often the development of these roles has been very much unplanned, and often the career path that has led people to them has been serendipitous rather than clinically planned.

Beware the undead lawyer

The professionalising of law firm management has been evident for sometime now, and is likely to step up a gear over the coming months as the profession feels the effects of the Legal Services Act 2007. However, that focus on the top echelons of senior management (CEOs, COOs and CIOs etc) is not really what I’m exploring here. This new breed of business support personnel usually play at a level below the board (although may well serve on some type of management committee), but nonetheless, are quietly influential. Often leading the types of initiatives that make a real difference within firms, shaping and managing change is clearly an important skill set.

What’s also apparent, in my entirely unscientific investigation (talking to these people!) is that they not only enjoy their new roles, but find them fulfilling and generally see themselves as continuing down that path for the foreseeable future.  Their background as lawyers gives them a unique understanding of their firms and the partnership culture, which further enhances their ability to make change stick.

It will be interesting to see how these roles develop; whether common characteristics emerge, whether more lawyers look to make the jump into this type of role,  whether the roles offer a route into more traditional management, and whether law firms begin to look outside the firm for talent to fill these positions.

At the moment though, it’s clear that these twilight roles in the shadows of law firms will continue to be filled by undead lawyers; with new careers rising from the graves of professional practice. What’s stranger still is that most of these lawyer zombies are smiling!