Is the traditional law firm hierarchy dead?

THE ROUTE TO LEGAL SUCCESS has – for as long as anyone can remember – always looked the same. First, you need to pass school exams with flying colours. Second: go to university and study law (or something else and convert). Third: pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (previously, the Legal Practice Course). Fourth: complete a couple of years of qualifying work and pass the SRA’s character and suitability requirements. Fifth: become a partner. Sixth: play a lot of golf and expect young grunts to follow in your illustrious footsteps.

While those first five steps represent Herculean effort, they will resonate with most lawyers in England and Wales. Especially those currently spending years and years and years striving to become a partner. “WHEN WILL I GET THAT PROMOTION?” we can almost hear them screaming.

A rigid structure

Once you’ve put in all the hard work and finally realised your goal, the struggle doesn’t stop there. The vast majority of partners find that they’re bogged down with a rigid structure, office politics, management responsibility, and even more hours in the office than ever before. But what if there was another option out there?

The consultancy model offers just that. Here, you don’t have to ‘play the game’ to become partner, or spend long nights networking only to line the pockets of the higher-ups. You can work in a way that suits you. If you’re going to put in all the effort to become partner, why not do it but reap far greater rewards? Property solicitor Sarah Edwards decided to take this path, and she couldn’t be happier:

“Since joining Setfords, I have earned my highest income since qualifying as a solicitor! I have always been a hard worker and, now I am unencumbered by all the tasks associated with being a partner, I’ve had the time to concentrate on generating more work and providing my clients with the best service. The Setfords fee structure allows me to reach an income that I would not usually achieve at a traditional firm. I am over the moon that I can do this whilst working remotely and flexibly.”

It’s clear that becoming a partner isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s a huge achievement, of course, but is it worth it? What if you’d rather focus on delivering excellent legal services, and not on all of the other inescapable tasks that seem to magically appear and get dumped on a partner’s plate? Tracey O’Dwyer, a Setfords family lawyer, agrees:

“I was in a senior role at my previous firm, but partnership never appealed to me. When you’re a partner, you’re involved in an awful lot more work than just the law; managing people, managing budgets, and dealing with any other day to day issues that arise. I didn’t want any of that; I just wanted to be a lawyer and do my legal work.”

So, if you want to reach the top faster and with greater freedom, the traditional legal path is probably not the best way.

Lack of freedom

The rigid traditional legal hierarchy clearly affects the freedom lawyers have to manage their own time. Post-Covid, many lawyers have come to the realisation that they do not want to miss out on seeing their family in order to reap the rewards of partnership in a traditional law firm. Setfords CEO Guy Setford says:

“We’re increasingly seeing lawyers join us having rejected the traditional partnership model. They are no longer satisfied with the increasing pressure of billing targets, or with the expectation that they suppress their personal lives in order to dedicate themselves to the firm.”

Setfords has become the preferred choice for lawyers who are disillusioned with the traditional hierarchical model. Our structure allows consultant lawyers to enjoy many of the benefits partners in traditional firms enjoy, with minimal loss of family time. Our remote working model takes our consultants away from the fiercely competitive environment of traditional firms. And, our consultants aren’t vying for partner attention: they’re focusing on their work, so clients get a truly dedicated service. The fact that they rarely, if ever, commute means they have been able to swap traffic jams for leisurely strolls across their lawns to their garden offices.

As our own Laura Dimmack says: “You must remember that working really hard for years and years to become a partner in a traditional firm is often about gaining a sense of control. But I would never have had as much control of my life as I now enjoy with Setfords. I choose the number of hours I work. I choose which days to work. I no longer commute. I’m rewarded for my efforts. And I have very happy clients. On top of which, my family and children see more of me. It’s a shame many lawyers continue to feel they must choose between their family life and their careers, as I once did. I’m now very happy with my work-life balance!”


Is consultancy for me?

If you are interested in becoming a consultant with us, get in touch. We are happy to conduct interviews remotely for suitable, UK-qualified candidates with five or more years’ experience. If you’re a good fit, you’ll be joining a team that was created for lawyers to do their best work.

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        This allows us to send you the information you need to know about consultancy

        This enables us to get in touch and discuss life as a Setfords consultant

        Currently, we can only work with lawyers qualified under one of these regulatory bodies