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From Inside Counsel to Consultant

When you are sitting in the general counsel's chair, you hear from them all the time. Sometimes you want them. Sometimes you wish they would disappear and let you get back to work. I'm talking about consultants from companies with services tailored specifically for corporate legal departments. Just a few examples include legal process outsourcing firms, matter management systems, benchmarking consultants, search firms and electronic discovery providers.

If you have ever attended the InsideCounsel SuperConference, or the Association of Corporate Counsel annual meeting, then you know many of these companies as conference sponsors, or as "vendors" with display booths. I put the word vendor in quotes, because I've never cared much for the term as it applies to professional services. Webster's Dictionary offers this cold definition of the word: "one who vends; SELLER."

A consultant, on the other hand, is defined as "one who gives professional advice." The difference between consultant and vendor is more than mere semantics. For inside counsel seeking job options in a rough macro-economic environment, an honest discussion of these words may help you decide if this path makes sense for you.

But first, let me offer a very partial list of companies that hire former inside counsel for consulting roles: Hildebrandt, Navigant, DataCert, Kroll Ontrack, Huron, Epiq Systems, RenewData, Anacomp and many others. If you have managed an in-house legal department, then you have the expertise and imprimatur that these employers seek. I have a term for positions with these employers: "lawyer non-lawyer jobs." My own job fits this category. And I often recruit talent for employers like the ones listed here.

So, is a lawyer non-lawyer job right for you? The answer lies in the difference between consultant and vendor. Successful consultants view themselves as solution providers who are contributing something important to Company XYZ. They are motivated by new challenges, financial reward and a love of independence. The best can sit comfortably on the other side of the general counsel's desk or conference table.

There are some excellent job opportunities right now for inside counsel who want a lawyer non-lawyer job. Consulting services that offer a cost-savings benefit, such as legal process outsourcing, may be growth opportunities in 2009.

However, many inside counsel fail in these roles. They begin to think of themselves as vendors. It happens when the consultant does not believe strongly in the service his or her company provides. It also happens when ego gets in the way and you can't help but think, "I'm on the wrong side of the desk." When meetings get rescheduled, or when a former colleague treats you differently at a conference because your name tag reads "sponsor," your self-image might take a hit. The moment you stop viewing yourself as a professional with valuable advice to offer, you are finished. That's when you become a salesman with something to vend.

Success in a lawyer non-lawyer job is not based on your credentials. Nor is success assured if you have a fabulous rolodex. However, a solid inside counsel network is a very helpful place to start. The shared traits of consultants who make it include self-confidence, persistence, and a fire in the belly. For self-motivated inside counsel who want to explore options, this alternate path can be lucrative, and even fun. Just be honest with yourself. Do you have what it takes to succeed as a consultant? If not, I guarantee you will be miserable as a vendor.


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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit His...

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