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The Rise and Rise of Professional Support Lawyers in the UK: A Career Path Redefined

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The Rise And Rise Of Professional Support Lawyers In The Uk A Career Path Redefined

​The legal profession has witnessed numerous changes over the past few decades, one of which is the continued rise of the Professional Support Lawyer (PSL), particularly in the UK. As legal domains evolve to address increasingly complex challenges, the role of Professional Support Lawyers becomes not just significant but indispensable, anchoring the evolving landscape of the legal profession with their unique blend of expertise and operational support. Despite the devastating blow to the profession during the financial crisis in 2008, PSLs have truly come back stronger than ever...

Historical Context and Initial Development

Emerging in the early 1990s, the PSL role was initially conceived as a solution for experienced solicitors who sought a more balanced lifestyle than that offered by traditional legal roles. These positions allowed talented lawyers to continue making significant contributions to their firms, albeit outside the high-pressure track of client-facing, billable work.

Originally, PSLs focused primarily on managing and disseminating internal knowledge, updating legal databases, and ensuring their colleagues were up-to-date with the latest legal developments and precedents. While initially viewed as a secondary career track, the value provided by PSLs quickly became apparent, leading to broader acceptance and integration of these roles within major law firms.

The Growing Importance of PSLs

Over time, the responsibilities of PSLs have grown substantially. Today, they are integral to training and mentoring junior lawyers, developing legal strategies, and often leading innovation projects, particularly in the adoption and implementation of legal technology. Their role has evolved from passive support to active engagement in the strategic operations of their firms.

The demand for PSLs has seen a noticeable uptick as law firms increasingly recognise the value these professionals add, not only in improving service delivery but also in enhancing firm-wide efficiency and competitiveness especially in light of technological advances. This evolution includes more structured career paths, clearer professional development opportunities, and specific performance metrics, underscoring the critical function PSLs serve in modern legal practice.

In fact, it would seem, we have entered a new era of recognition as evidenced for example, by Professional Support Lawyer, Pauline Harrison in 2020, who made Partner (now retired) at then Allen & Overy, now A&O Shearman. While Johnny Shearman as Head of Knowledge and Legal Services at Signature Litigation, now Dispute Resolution Knowledge Lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, LLP was recognised as a recommended lawyer in The Legal 500, 2022 for banking litigation. While there is still a way to go, PSLs are starting to get the acknowledgement they deserve.

The Critical Role of Technology

As technology continues to become a significant factor in the operations of law firms, the PSL role is becoming even more critical. PSLs often lead the way in incorporating new technologies into practice, from advanced legal research tools to AI-driven analytics, enhancing both the capacity and efficiency of legal services.

The Benefits of Becoming a PSL

Many PSLs find great satisfaction in their role, appreciating the opportunity to focus deeply on legal scholarship and internal strategy without the pressures of billable hour targets. The role generally enjoys more predictable hours compared to their fee-earning counterparts, contributing to a better work-life balance. This is an incredibly rewarding pathway offering a viable long-term career for lawyers who prefer a focus on the intellectual aspects of law, policy development, and internal mentorship.

What Type of Lawyer Should Consider Becoming a PSL

Unlike fee earners, PSLs are typically evaluated based on the quality of their knowledge dissemination and the operational impact they have within their firms. This requires a skill set that includes not only legal expertise but also strong abilities in communication, research, and technology. Lawyers who have a knack for teaching and mentoring would likely find the PSL role rewarding.

The Future

Professional Support Lawyers have undoubtedly become a cornerstone of modern legal practice in the UK, offering lawyers an alternative career path that is both intellectually rewarding and critically important to the success of their firms. As the legal industry continues to evolve, the role of the PSL is expected to grow and adapt, further cementing its importance.

Whether you're a seasoned lawyer seeking a fulfilling career change or a legal professional interested in the dynamic intersection of law and technology, exploring the possibilities of becoming a PSL could be the next step in your professional journey. If you're intrigued by the opportunities and challenges discussed in this article, we invite you to delve deeper into the world of PSLs and discover how you can make a meaningful impact behind the scenes of the legal profession.

To all the PSLs in our network, take the opportunity to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.