Professional Support Lawyers have long supported fee-earners in the background, but they may get their chance to shine yet…
The English rock band Oasis, formed in 1991 in Manchester, is responsible for many hits that blast out on your radio every day. Supersonic, She’s Electric, Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger are just a few of their popular anthems. Throughout their various line up changes, two members remained a constant, brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher. Noel and Liam are two sides of the same coin, Liam is bold as brass while Noel is more reserved and thoughtful. Lead singer Liam took the spotlight and was adored by fans around the world and backup singer and songwriter Noel, took second stage. While fans screamed in excitement at the mere sight of Liam, Noel worked tirelessly in the background, crafting the hits to which everyone sang along. This is akin to traditional Professional Support Lawyers who were once overlooked in favour of their fee-earning counterparts.
The professional support lawyer (PSL), also known as Knowledge Lawyer, is a non-client-facing position, well-versed in complex problem-solving, research, training, and strategic market positioning within a given practice area in support of fee-earning lawyers. PSLs often advise fee-earning lawyers on complex matters and new legal developments while designing and delivering training for fee-earners on legal theory, precedent, and trends. Knowledge lawyers also prepare articles and client briefs to both support business development and keep internal and external clients appraised of major new trends. Like Noel supporting Liam and Oasis, PSLs toil in the background to provide support and insight to fee-earning lawyers. It’s a tale as old as time, marketing and sales, nurses and doctors, pit crews and drivers – while the former grind away in the background, the latter is often more celebrated and in the public eye.
There are a myriad of advantages to building a comprehensive team of PSLs, these ten key benefits have long improved legal team performance and the fee-earners that comprise them:
- Increased Specialisation: The legal field has become increasingly specialised, and with that specialisation comes complex regulations and laws across various sectors. PSLs, with their specialised knowledge, are utilised to offer insights and guidance to lawyers within their teams.
- Risk Management: The consequences of legal errors can be significant, PSLs are positioned to ensure that the firm’s work is of the highest quality and to reduce the risk of malpractice claims and regulatory issues.
- Efficiency and Productivity: PSLs will conduct legal research, prepare precedents, and keep their team updated on developments within their practice area. Where teams don’t have the luxury of a PSL, this work would be carried out by fee earners who would otherwise be using that time to increase billings.
- Training and Development: PSLs often play a crucial role in training junior lawyers and keeping senior lawyers up to date with the latest legal developments. This helps maintain a high level of expertise within the firm.
- Cost Efficiency: With clients increasingly demanding cost-effective and efficient legal services, PSLs can streamline processes, deliver consistent quality, and provide value to clients. In doing so they make their firm more competitive.
- Regulatory Changes: Frequent changes in regulations and laws require continuous learning. PSLs specialise in staying up to date with legal developments and by doing so, enable the firm to adapt quickly to regulatory changes.
- Knowledge Management: PSLs play a vital role in knowledge management, ensuring that the firm’s knowledge base is current and accessible to all lawyers within the firm.
- Globalisation: As law firms expand their global reach, PSLs are utilised to ensure consistency in legal work and knowledge sharing across multiple offices and jurisdictions.
- Market Differentiation: Having a strong PSL team is a selling point for law firms, it showcases their commitment to excellence and staying ahead in a competitive market.
- Technological Advancements: PSLs work with legal tech tools and AI-powered solutions to enhance research and knowledge management, aligning with the industry’s increasing reliance on technology.
Like Noel, who used Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds as a vehicle to reach the spotlight, the Professional Support Lawyer, through progression opportunities with Magic Circle firms, is becoming more prevalent and celebrated at International and City firms. As the commonality of the role has developed, so too has innovation and progression. This innovation is not solely due to the modern PSL, but it could be said that many firms would attribute their technical progression and succession to their knowledge lawyers.
Every year we see firms invest and build their PSL teams, offering more roles for technically astute lawyers to hone their skills and better their departments and firms. The role has also begun to offer a different career for progression than where it may have done twenty years ago as we are seeing PSL’s take on non-fee earning partnership roles, finally achieving the fame they deserve!
The prevalence of Professional Support Lawyers in law firms comes as a direct response to the growing complexity of the legal landscape, clients demanding efficiency, and the need for specialised expertise and knowledge management to maintain high standards, enabling firms to remain competitive within the market. While they may have previously Cast no Shadow, the Professional Support Lawyer is here to stay and becoming Rock ‘n’ Roll Stars in their own right.
I would be more than happy to discuss this in more length and, like Liam, shamelessly promote myself, my Knowledge Lawyer candidates, and the PSL roles that the wider Jameson Legal Private Practice team and I are working on.