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How the career structure and progression prospects of a PSL is continuously evolving

Lucinda Troostwyk Professional Support Lawyer, Career Advice, Private Practice...

Progression opportunities and career paths for PSLs still vary considerably across the City. Some of the Magic Circle and larger firms now offer an “of counsel” position, which can be akin to partner level. A number of firms still have a flat structure where PSLs at all levels report into partners or group heads, and others offer a simple structure and reporting line as follows:

PSL > Senior PSL/counsel > Head of KM > Global head of KM

However, as the role and its challenges have transformed, there is a growing demand from PSLs for their employers to provide a clear and defined career structure. Responses to this demand vary considerably at present, and whilst some firms have a lot of catching up to do, what is clear is that firms who are addressing this issue will find it easier to attract new talent and retain their existing PSL specialists. Management at one City firm recently commented:

“We are currently developing a career structure for our knowledge managers. They want a clear structure and motivating career prospects – just as our associates have a clear career path to guide and encourage them, so too should our PSLs. We want to encourage this talent and retain this valuable source of expertise.”

At an increasing number of firms, there are genuine opportunities to progress internally, or to be promoted into a lateral move as head of PSLs or head of knowledge management. For PSLs who find themselves in a career cul-de-sac, there are increasingly attractive alternatives elsewhere, providing they can embrace the new challenges and demands in this area.

In September 2018, it was reported in the legal press that one US firm had appointed a PSL as a partner. This is an extremely rare move, but a very encouraging one for those working in this area, as noted by The Lawyer: “Few firms bring in PSLs at partner level, with the move representing a possible new career path for lawyers who have not followed the traditional track to partnership”.

In terms of remuneration, substantial bonuses are still the exception, but they do exist for high performers. Whilst salaries are certainly capped for standard PSL roles, financial rewards do exist where roles include a more strategic element. Firms are becoming increasingly aware that if they want to overhaul their PSL function, they will need to offer an attractive remuneration package. In the future, firms who genuinely buy into the PSL function and are prepared to invest in it will reap the rewards.

This extract is published in full as a chapter in The Evolving Role of the Professional Support Lawyer (2018), published by the Ark Group, which can be ordered here: https://www.ark-group.com/product/evolving-role-professional-support-lawyer