Not every solicitor wants to follow the well-trodden partnership route, which has traditionally been a problem for many more experienced lawyers. Things are changing, though, and The Brief explores the options that are increasingly available.

A career in the law can be exceptionally fulfilling. The many incredible lawyers featured in The Brief are testament to this.

However, while there are a host of examples of solicitors in private practice who have achieved material and professional fulfilment over the course of long careers, the structure of some firms has not always favoured those who might be technically excellent lawyers but, either through personal circumstances or temperament, do not wish to pursue partnership.

This could lead to the situation where older lawyers who were not focused on business development or team management were seen as too costly compared to their younger colleagues. “You start looking like a very expensive ‘doer’”, as a well-respected head of corporate put it a decade ago.

In recent years, however, there has been an accelerating trend within the profession to provide avenues for experienced lawyers who wish to continue to focus on the detail of legal work, or to build their practice in a way that provides work/life balance. For example, this month’s “Day in the Life of” contributor, James Morris of Indemnity Law, says that flexible working and work/life balance are baked into the structure of the boutique firm he founded in 2000.

Consultancy becoming mainstream

An important contributor to change has been the rise of the consultancy business model. Many firms have, for a long time, employed older consultants but, as Daniela Korn, co-owner and head of employment at the boutique media law firm Tan Ward, says, the perception was “that lawyers became ‘consultants’ when they wanted to taper off their careers as a precursor to retirement.”

That perception has, she continues, shifted: “There has been an increase in legal stars opting to become consultants at a time in their careers where retirement is not yet in their vision. As a result, there are also more consultancy platforms forming, giving individual lawyers the ability to shop around for the model that best suits their needs.

Over the last decade, the consultancy model has shaken up the legal sector. It has become a truly great alternative to the traditional law firm structure most private practice lawyers have grown up in.

There are, she says, “well-established lawyers with successful practices choosing to work within consultancy platforms for a variety of reasons which include the desire to have flexibility and complete autonomy over the lives, to escape the politics of traditional partnership and earn more money in the process. The beauty of the model is the ability for lawyers to work as much or as little as they want or need in any given period meaning that busy lawyers are less likely to feel burnt out than they once did in traditional structures.”

Centralised sales

Harper James, whose legal services director Ashley Mott shared a Day in His Life with The Brief earlier this year, is a law firm that offers employed senior lawyers a flexible and supportive working environment. One of its main differentiators is its centralised client services team, which means that lawyers do not have to concentrate on business development unless they particularly want to do so.

Its head of talent, Leah Horwood, says, “There is no relentless pursuit of partnership if it’s not wanted. Senior lawyers can focus on what they do best—being lawyers.

“We centralise non-chargeable elements such as business development and administrative responsibilities, allowing them to concentrate on delivering exceptional legal services.

“Here at Harper James, we prioritise innovation and adaptability, providing senior lawyers with access to cutting-edge technology, resources, and ongoing professional development. This ensures they stay at the forefront of legal trends and deliver the highest quality work to clients.

Our senior lawyers have a fulfilling and enriching career path within a forward-thinking law firm that prioritises excellence in legal services over the immediate partnership track, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

“Challenger” firms might be leading the charge but it is only fair to point out that many more traditional firms have also been making progress when it comes to flexibility and talent retention. There is still a way to go, particularly in terms of billing targets (providing lawyers with the option to work shorter hours but not reducing their targets accordingly tends to give the impression of lip-service), but many of the The Brief’s contributors have gone on the record to say that the sector is making significant strides when it comes to flexibility.

Putting it in perspective

In this context it is also worth providing a little historical perspective. Austin Lafferty, founder of, and now a consultant solicitor with, Glasgow-based Austin Lafferty Solicitors, and a past president of the Law Society of Scotland, qualified in 1981, “pre-computers and long before the profession opened up to competition and advertising, let alone Google and AI.”

He says, “In those days the goal was reaching partnership, and many worked until they dropped. Jumping forward four decades, the landscape is transformed.

“From an early age, solicitors are specialising rather than being general practitioners. This has its own career dynamic, but over and above, many are honing skills and building followings rather than setting down roots. Getting a good work-life balance also plays into this mix.

"In my day, travel meant Lesmahagow or Stirling. Now it's Shanghai, Toronto, and of course London.

The opportunities are worldwide. But don't make the mistake of writing off the traditional or local career: there is a ton of money to be made in suburban private client and family law for those who adapt to new ways but keep core values.


Tan Ward

Harper James

Austin Lafferty Solicitors

Connect with Daniela Korn via LinkedIn

Connect with Leah Horwood via LinkedIn

Connect with Austin Lafferty via LinkedIn