The past several years have seen a significant increase in the number of Professional Support Lawyers employed throughout London (notwithstanding the impact of the 2009/10 recession, where demand for lawyers, PSLs included, dropped). Their importance to firms is recognised and has similarly increased.
A growing necessity for fee earners to concentrate fully on chargeable work means that the roles now taken on by Professional Support Lawyers are extremely varied and increasingly integral to the performance of the firm. This is now reflected in the status, career prospects and remuneration packages available.
The following information is designed to act as a general guide to working as a Professional Support Lawyer and contains information regarding:
• Areas of law and type of firm employing PSLs
• Qualifications/experience required
• The advantages/disadvantages of being a PSL
• The nature of the role
Areas of law and type of Firm
With support to fee earners becoming a significant consideration for law firms, it is rare to find a department in a major City law firm which doesn't have at least one person who can be termed a Professional Support Lawyer. In many cases, there will be a network of Professional Support Lawyers, (especially in larger departments such as corporate, litigation, banking and property), organising integrated systems of database information, training programmes, marketing materials and precedents.
However, the role of a Professional Support Lawyer is not just confined to large departments in the largest City firms. Small specialist groups such as insolvency, tax, IP/IT, employment and construction also employ Professional Support Lawyers, whilst the use of Professional Support Lawyers has spread to most of the top 50 UK firms as well as an increasing number of the niche practices and US firms which have entered the London market.
The often widely varied role of the Professional Support Lawyer means that firms are generally of the view that they should be qualified lawyers with significant experience from a respected firm of equal or better standing.
The benefits of being a qualified lawyer are twofold. Firstly, the knowledge obtained from practising as a lawyer provides awareness of the requirements of the fee earners and the pressures they are under. Secondly, the fee earners themselves are more likely to trust and respect someone who they see coming from a similar background and having relevant experience.
In general, Professional Support Lawyers normally have no less than 3 years post qualification experience and good academic backgrounds (in light of the academic content of many Professional Support Lawyer roles). However, for less demanding roles, firms may well consider excellent lawyers with 2 years post qualification experience.
The hours worked by fee earners at large firms make the role of Professional Support Lawyer an attractive option, with its more controlled hours and, in some cases, the opportunity to work part-time.
The average working day of a PSL is 9.30am to 6pm, although obviously late nights can be needed if a particular project being worked on requires further time input. Weekend work is extremely rare.
The flexibility offered by the Professional Support role means that part-time work is also an option, whether this is as a result of the level of support required in the department or by the ability to "job share". This is an increasingly attractive option for lawyers with children.
Salaries can be variable and depend upon the level of responsibility taken by the Professional Support Lawyer and the firm's policy on "discounting" the salaries of their Professional Support Lawyers (to reflect the more controlled hours).
Some firms treat and pay their PSLs as equivalent to the fee earners but generally this is the exception rather than the rule. Most firms discount salaries by between 5% to 20% to take account of the more regular hours and the reduced pressures of not fee earning.
If a Professional Support Lawyer is employed on a part-time basis, then salaries and holidays will be pro rated accordingly.
Being a Professional Support Lawyer does not necessarily rule out the possibility of becoming a partner in the future. Several large firms have already made up Professional Support Lawyers to partner status and as the importance of Professional Support Lawyers increases, it is natural to assume that the number of support lawyers being admitted to partnerships throughout the City will grow in time.
Advantages and disadvantages
The most significant advantages of becoming a Professional Support Lawyer are:
• More regular hours
• Variety of work
• Involvement with other areas of the Firm
• Competitive salaries
• Opportunity to “shape” your role
The “perceived” disadvantages to moving into a support role are:
• Volume of requests
The nature of a Professional Support Role varies from group to group and firm to firm. As a result, it is difficult to state what the “typical” PSL role is.
However a common thread runs through most roles. This can be summarised as follows:
• To apply the understanding of market practice in developing Precedents and Practice Notes and working practices.
• Researching points of law for fee earners and keeping them abreast of new points of law and current market developments.
• To liaise with fee earners and contribute as required to the production of articles, briefings, newsletters or other materials for circulation to clients or to be published in selected journals.
• To contribute to training sessions aimed at briefing fee earners on changes to law, practice and precedents.
• Liaising with the central information services team and library staff.
• Playing a part in the marketing of the department and producing material for, and perhaps presenting, seminars both internally and externally.
• To contribute to and manage various parts of the firm’s intranet and information provision services.
• Brainstorming ideas
Much of the above can be found in most Professional Support roles in the City but the breadth of the role often depends on your own interests together with the particular requirements of the group/firm.
To talk through your options and opportunities in more detail, please contact us at Garfield Robbins International on +44 (0)845 671 0199.
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