Interim assignments and flexible legal resource are not only highly useful for businesses facing rapid change but offer lawyers flexibility and autonomy over their working lives. Peerpoint is Allen & Overy’s flexible legal resourcing business that provides interim legal support to mainly in-house teams. Its global managing director since late 2020 is Carolyn Aldous, who became the first non-fee earning woman to have been promoted to partner-equivalent status at Allen & Overy. She has been instrumental in launching Peerpoint in both the US and UAE, a move that underpins the global appetite for flexible legal solutions. Here, she answers seven key questions about the business
1. What’s the vision behind Peerpoint and how does it work?
Peerpoint is Allen & Overy’s (A&O’s) global flexible resourcing business. We match legal consultants with clients requiring interim resourcing. We are a talent-led business, run by lawyers for lawyers. Our vision is to enable lawyers to have fulfilling and career enhancing opportunities while having the space for personal interests and frankly a great life. We believe that legal consulting, much like private practice or going in-house, is simply another way to build an interesting and rewarding career.
We are also committed to working with businesses, many of whom are A&O clients to enable them to build the best in-house legal teams they can, using interim talent to help them meet their business needs. We aren’t focused on building a large panel of consultant lawyers but we are passionate about building one that is diverse, so that it represents our society and the needs of our clients. This means we’re growing a community of top legal talent for clients. As one of A&O’s Advanced Delivery and Solutions business, we are also part of the firm’s vision to provide a range of services that can help clients grow and succeed in today’s ever-changing environment.
The way in which our business works is that we recruit top lawyers onto our ‘panel’. Once they are on our panel they have access to consulting opportunities as well as a wide range of resources and support. We work hard to match up the right client opportunity with the right consultants, working closely to meet both party’s needs.
2. Is there much change in how lawyers want to work?
Absolutely. Later this year, Peerpoint celebrates our 10th anniversary. It’s incredible to see the change over that period of time. We started out in the UK and have since grown to cover Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, the UAE and the US. We see this as a real testament to the appetite for both legal consulting and flexible legal resource globally. At the start of our journey in the UK, legal consulting was seen as more of a ‘maverick’ move but now it’s seen as a credible career path and far more ‘mainstream’.
Lawyers are increasingly looking for more control over their careers and personal lives and the ability to create a balance that works for them. The rapid shift towards the work/life balance ideology has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and is no longer just the aspiration of millennials. Many see being a lawyer as only one part of their identity.
We work with lawyers wanting to create quality careers with less compromising on other aspects of their lives such as families, hobbies or ‘side-hustles’. For many lawyers, the pandemic demonstrated the importance (and possibility) of flexible working, which was much needed for our industry. The desire for a top quality and prestigious career is still there but the way in which lawyers work to get it has definitely changed.
We also see lawyers who don’t necessarily want the linear route and they’re more open to developing ‘portfolio careers’ where there isn’t such a focus on creating a one-track career. With that shift has come a new and more diverse way of defining career success. It doesn’t look the same for everyone and that bears out in how all our consultants have very different reasons for legal consulting and what they want out of it.
The rise of legal consulting has proven beneficial for clients who can access high quality legal talent for a particular project to supplement their in-house legal team, rather than relying entirely on secondees or permanent hires. Since the pandemic, we have seen a significant increase in demand from clients for interim assignments. We don’t envisage this abating any time soon, especially given the hiring challenges companies in many countries are facing at present.
3. What types of lawyers does consulting appeal to?
We work with lawyers who have anything from three to more than 20 years’ post qualification experience. There’s a misconception that only senior lawyers can become legal consultants and that’s absolutely not true. In fact we often see the most demand from our clients for talent that sits at the lower end of experience.
Lawyers choose to go into consulting for a number of reasons. For some it might mean balancing their hobbies, interests or family (or all of them) alongside their career. For others it might be a great way to progress their careers at a quicker rate or gain unique experience. For many these reasons can change over time and we always remind our consultants to keep reassessing those goals and drivers so they can get the most out of consulting.
4. How do you build a culture of belonging at Peerpoint?
The hardest part of my role is to be really present for my team, our consultants and clients. In days that are long and run across multiple time zones, I often don’t get this right, but I continue to aspire to really be present.
My team are incredible. They inspire me. They challenge me. They hold me to account. My role is to support our leadership team to create a place where everyone is welcome, they are seen, heard and their perspectives and contributions valued. When everyone is doing their best to create this, what a group of committed people can do is really phenomenal.
‘Belonging’ is a really key part of our culture and particularly being part of the A&O business. We see belonging as being a proud team player, open to collaborating and ensuring everyone feels included. This is so key for our team because many of us are working daily with colleagues across many parts of the world. We work really hard to make being a global team work. Our monthly team meetings rotates time zones, we record it and Tuesdays are designated “global” days – so everyone has the ability to WFH and flex their day to fit around the calls. Now that travel is back on the cards we have had several team members undertake secondments to other teams – building great connections and allowing the sharing of best practice.
We also try and ensure that everyone can achieve to the best of their abilities. We invest heavily in our people, from regular check-ins to encouraging them to undertake both internal and external training. All of us recently undertook our own online neuroscience-based assessment so that we were equipped with some really useful profiles which formed the basis of some interesting and productive discussions among team members. Some of our team also took part in a unique Positive Intelligence program aimed to build mental fitness. We also have a dedicated mental health action group among the team, many of whom have undertaken mental health training. Being part of A&O also means we all have access to great wellbeing, learning and development resources.
It’s really important that we encourage a sense of partnership and togetherness, both within Peerpoint but also with our colleagues in A&O. We also extend this out to our clients and consultants where we see it more as building a ‘working partnership’, rather than just service provider.
It’s important our consultants have a sense of belonging to a community, which is why we work in such close partnership with them and foster strong and tangible relationships with them. It’s also important that they feel a sense of community to other panel members. We facilitate this by organising events where they can network and socialise, everything from Summer BBQs to dinners where they can meet consultants who trained at the same law firms. We also keep them updated on news, interesting articles and other consultants via newsletters. Where we feel it would be beneficial we also make personal introductions and organise small breakfasts for consultants working in the same organisations to meet.
5. How do you support the career development of your consultants?
We are genuinely passionate about supporting our consultants to build the best careers they can and have dedicated teams who focus on doing just that. We think we’re unique in offering career coaching and advice, sometimes extending to suggesting that a permanent role they’ve been offered might really be the right choice for them at that moment in time. We also offer one-to-one CV writing sessions, online training opportunities, career development-themed speaker events, check-ins while on placement and much more. Consultants at Peerpoint are always in control of their development and can have as much or as little input as they like in terms of support. One of our consultants recently told us that Peerpoint has provided the best support they’ve ever had in their legal career!
We also launched our new learning portal last year which is a really exciting milestone. It’s a platform packed full of useful resources and training. Being part of A&O also means we’ve been able to include lots of top quality training content that the firm uses. In a recent survey, one consultant told us, “it’s pretty much the whole package in terms of support, good roles and know how”.
6. Most other legal consulting business aren’t part of a global law firm, what are the benefits of this model to your consultants?
Being part of A&O means we can offer a whole host of support and resources that others do not provide or find difficult to deliver. For example, we offer access to A&O partners, professional support lawyers and a whole tranche of technical resources for when our consultants are on placement. Our consultants also have access to the firm’s networks and pro bono opportunities which again underpins how much we value communities and networks and want to extend these to our consultants.
There is also a level of quality and credibility that’s associated with A&O, we find that consultants are proud to be part of a leading global law firm as it sets them apart in the legal consulting market.
We have also been able to grow and develop more opportunities with clients because of this connection. Having that added trust and quality assurance of the A&O name means we can pursue opportunities that otherwise might be difficult to get off the ground as an independent business. It also means we can place consultants on some major milestone deals that A&O are involved in.
7. How has Covid-19 impacted the landscape for legal consulting?
I think the really interesting thing is that it’s made a lot of lawyers reassess their priorities. For many, once the offices, travel and perks had been stripped away they reconsidered the day-to-day work they do and where their careers were going. For some it meant rebalancing how their career and the rest of their life fits together. Coming out of the brunt of Covid-19, lawyers that had worked remotely also wanted to hold onto certain aspects of that flexibility and legal consulting gives them a way in which they can do that.
An interesting aspect for us is that Covid-19 prompted quite a few of our consultants to relocate, often returning to their family in a different country. This has opened up so many interesting ways in which we’ve been able to support them due to our global networks. We now see a number of consultants supporting a client in one country, while living in another. I think it’s opened up businesses’ eyes to the benefits of this kind of remote working, so now we’re seeing much more openness to getting creative in how you can use legal consulting to your advantage, both as client and a consultant.