Although the job title has remained the same, the evolving role of the professional support lawyer presents intriguing and dynamic possibilities…
To many outside the knowledge management field – and even to some within it – the title Professional Support Lawyer has a decidedly retro feel. But to my mind, what can be seen as a bland and old-fashioned name hides some more intriguing and dynamic possibilities.
I started working as a PSL in the early 2000s after 10 or so years as a partner in a high street legal aid firm specialising in employment, although I needed to turn my hand to a number of other practice areas. Looking back on the past 15 or so years I can discern at least three different phases in the way my career has developed.
- Phase 1 - a repository and distributor of current awareness: it is hard to remember how difficult it used to be to keep everyone up to date. There were few online subscription services available and much more limited information available for free on the internet. There was a lot of hard graft involved in obtaining, distributing and analysing the information that our front-line lawyers needed to have at their fingertips. Most of us still need to do this, but it is much easier and quicker than it used to be – but then there is a lot more information to share.
- Phase 2 - an expert on emerging aspects of employment law. The noughties were particularly busy in terms of new legislation, including the introduction of numerous discrimination strands and then the huge consolidation process culminating in the Equality Act 2010. My role expanded to include some direct client advice on cutting edge issues, as well as a greater emphasis on training and practice development.
- Phase 3 – a facilitator and collaborator with colleagues in other practice areas: since 2010 the supply of new employment law has dried up. Instead in my field we have mostly had changes which are not strictly employment related (for example the introduction of the apprenticeship levy or gender pay reporting) or significant changes that have affected most practice areas simultaneously (for example the General Data Protection Regulation and of course Brexit). This has opened up the possibility of working more closely with our marketing and communications team to shape the way my firm as a whole engages with these issues.
There have, of course, been other changes that have shaped my career - particularly innovations in technology. There is also an important common thread linking all these phases together: I couldn’t have continued to be a PSL all these years unless I really cared about my practice area, and the social and political issues it needs to engage with.
I’m looking forward to exploring these and other issues at the career development workshop on 10 October at the Professional Support Lawyer conference 2018, in London. To find out more and to book your place visit https://psl-libraries.co.uk/
By Charles Pigott, Professional Support Lawyer at Mills & Reeve