Does a legal career have to revolve around jobs in law firms?

THERE was a time when partnership in a private practice firm was seen as the be all and end all of a legal career.

No more, with everything from automation to work-life balance demands changing what it means to be a lawyer and what lawyers want their jobs to be.

Take Shona Lowe, head of private client services at Standard Life Aberdeen’s financial planning business 1825.

Though she started off traditionally enough – law degree and diploma at the University of Edinburgh, traineeship at Shepherd and WedderburnMs Lowe moved in-house to Standard Life after five years as an associate at HBJ Gateley (now Addleshaw Goddard) and has recently taken on a hybrid role that allows her to apply all the knowledge gained over a decade-and-a-half as a lawyer in a different type of advisory environment.

“I quickly realised that the private client side was where I was most interested and I came to Standard Life to be their in-house private client lawyer,” Ms Lowe said.

“It was part of my role to understand more about the tax and trust team at one of the firms we were looking to acquire to build a financial planning firm and I realised that there was an opportunity to take that and embed it in the business.

“The nice thing is that I’m still using all my legal knowledge and working directly with clients and doing a lot of what I did before. I’m trying to blend the best bits of private practice with the best bits of in-house and combining that into a new working environment.”

Having launched in 2015 after buying English financial advisory business Pearson Jones, 1825 has grown by acquisition since, most recently announcing Bristol-based Fraser Heath Financial Management as its latest addition.

Such rapid expansion means Ms Lowe’s advisory team has doubled in size in the past three months, with interest coming from solicitors looking for a different career challenge.

“When advertising for new roles we’re seeing interest from people in long and established private practice careers,” Ms Lowe said

This could be down to the fact that what the 1825 private client team does is broadly similar to what a private client team in a law firm does, only without the pressure to justify its existence to fee-hungry corporate or banking colleagues.

“We behave a lot like a private practice law firm. We work on hourly rates, time record and invoice clients based on completing that work, so it looks and feels like a law firm but we are a department,” Ms Lowe said.

“We do have solicitors that work with us and we have practising certificates but we give legal advice with a small L. We do wills, powers of attorney, tax advice and probate work but we don’t do any of the activities that are reserved under legislation.”

The appeal of such a set-up, said Ms Lowe, is that she and her team are involved in building the business, with the private client department not only taking referrals from 1825’s financial planners but from other advisory businesses too.

“We were doing a webinar as part of the wider proposition and the attendees were primarily financial advice organisations that work with Standard Life Aberdeen,” Ms Lowe explained.

“What we got off the back of that was a lot of people who were interested in learning how we could work with them – that’s been an area where we’ve seen real growth.

“It’s something they would like to have in-house but for whatever reason haven’t been able to build that. They’re looking for someone they can work with and trust to work jointly with their clients, those firms wanted to know that no-one would be standing on their toes in the areas of expertise that they already have.

“To them we behave like a standalone legal practice. We keep their data separate [to the 1825 financial planning department] and would not cross market to their clients.”

For Ms Lowe it is the entrepreneurial nature of building a business in such a way that has proved the most rewarding aspect of moving into a non-traditional legal role.

“I enjoy the business leadership side of it,” she said.

“There will always be people that want to go down the private practice route and there will always be people who prefer the in-house environment but for me the opportunity that comes from doing something different is genuinely exciting.”

Credit: Margaret Taylor

(Copyright (c) 2017 Newsquest Media Group), source Newspapers

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