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alternatives to the traditional law firm

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For interesting work, avoid law firms


kirstie penk the legal director


“For lawyers, alternatives to the traditional law firm can offer a more varied case load. ”


By Kirstie Penk – Of The Legal Director

If you’ve taken a break from your legal career in order to raise kids, you might be thinking that a return to work will involve joining a law firm.

Perhaps the very firm that you left, or possibly another: let’s face it, it’s a tough job market out there.

In which case, I have a confession to share with you.

I too am a lawyer. I too have kids. And I too appreciate the flexibility of family-friendly employment.

But the last time I worked inside a traditional law firm was in 1994.

How come? Basically, it’s been my experience that there’s more interesting work—and more enjoyable work—outside law firms, than inside law firms.

When I left that law firm back in 1994, it was after spending six months, just after I’d qualified, working in the commercial property practice of a 40-partner firm. Already, I could see myself becoming pigeon-holed into becoming a property lawyer and that idea filled me with dread.

So I took a job with a NASDAQ-listed American computer networking company, working as its sole in-house lawyer in Europe.

I helped to set up a manufacturing plant in Ireland. I helped to acquire another NASDAQ-listed business, based in Israel. I was running the company secretary and intragroup structure for 36 subsidiary companies all over the world.

And for six months, I spent Tuesday to Friday of every week in New York, helping to spin-out part of the business, and float it separately on NASDAQ.

Later when we spun out another part of the business, the company retained a 10% stake in the wireless part of the business, with two board seats—one of which fell to me.

Life was interesting. Very interesting. And a lot more interesting than commercial property. Plus, I was learning a lot.

Do you remember the dotcom crash? I do: the business went into receivership, and—together with four colleagues—I bought a piece of what was left, in a management buyout, running it for a further four years.

Again, it was an interesting—and educational—experience.

In 2006 we put the business I owned into liquidation and following the birth of my first child in 2006, and my husband and I decided to relocate back to Yorkshire. 2 years later, my second child arrived, and after 18 months I was ready to return to the world of work.

But I didn’t want to work the kind of hours that I’d worked before. I didn’t want the same crazy amount of travelling. I wanted to work part-time. I didn’t want a boring role in a law firm, and nor did I want to work in-house where the only part-time role I would get would be working in a large legal team pushing bits of paper around.

So I joined The Legal Director, which was just starting up. We’re a firm providing corporate clients with their own part-time general counsel, or legal director.

Typically, our lawyers will work for a client for between one and six days a month—perhaps on-site at the client, perhaps from home. Many of our lawyers—the majority, in fact—are women.

Today, I’m a director and a shareholder. Together with my colleagues Ed Simpson, who is in London, and James Mallender, who is in Bristol, we manage a team of 29 lawyers nationwide.

What do they do for their clients? Just about anything: the businesses in question are generally in the £5m–50m range, so as their clients’ sole and senior legal adviser, our lawyers are expected to deal with a wide variety of legal work—general commercial or IP matters, employment and compliance issues, and so on.

It’s interesting work. It’s family-friendly, too. And as we grow—and we’re on track to grow our revenues by 50% this year—we’re always keen to hear from lawyers who might like to join the team.

Click here to apply to join the team

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