Helen Libson is the Global Community Manager for Peerpoint, Allen & Overy’s global platform for self-directed consultant lawyers.
She oversees how the Peerpoint community of consultant lawyers evolves and grows as well as managing the resources, support and events Peerpoint consultants have access to. Ahead of our Women in Law Summit on 17th May, we caught up with Helen to talk about inclusion, diversity and being a woman in the legal sector.
Why did you first get involved in Women in Law Summit?
There are a number of reasons why we wanted to get involved this year. 2019 is an important year for women in law as it’s 100 years since women were allowed to practice law in the UK. Last November, I joined some of the first 100 years celebrations in Sydney to mark the centenary of a change to the law that allowed women to practice law in New South Wales. It was such an inspiring event to be involved in that we were keen to make sure we shone a particular focus on women this year as we entered a similar milestone in the UK.
At Peerpoint we’re focussed on being able to deliver success for our consultants, however they wish to define that. We see a lot of ambitious women on our panel who have used consulting to carve a successful path in their career. I think it’s interesting to look at how we can bring consulting to a wider audience through something like Women in Law.
One of our consultants, Alexandra Gladwell, was approached to speak at the Summit and we discussed how we could work together on it. We thought it was a great opportunity to make the most of having a consultant sharing their experiences.
Your session at this year’s event is called ’The Future of Law’. What learnings can attendees expect to walk away with from your session?
‘The future of law’ is such a huge topic at the moment that you could probably fill an entire summit on it! For us, it was important to have a specific focus. We want to look more tangibly at what ‘the future of law’ could mean for a female lawyer. It’s easy to get hung up on only looking at technology when you’re talking about the future but there are so many other key themes to explore such as alternative working models, new skill sets and changing business models. Technology intersects and impacts all of these things, which is where I think it’s really interesting. Attendees can expect to walk away with some thought provoking ideas about how they can ‘future-proof’ their careers and make the most of the advancements in the industry.
As Global Community Manager, you must have a lot of conversations around key issues facing today’s legal professionals. What are a few of the biggest ones you’ve encountered recently?
I worked on a significant piece of research we launched last year around the Future for Legal Talent and it’s been really interesting to see some of the themes and headlines from that large-scale research reflected in the day-to-day conversations we have with lawyers.
There’s a big push towards taking control of ones career and the kind of work you do, something that’s historically been hard to undertake within the structures of traditional legal career paths.
The work-life balance is one theme that is particularly pertinent and is set to become an increasingly important conversation that needs to be taken more seriously by employers and businesses. It’s not as simple as the work-life balance equating to part-time. We see many definitions of what a balanced life looks like depending on individual aspirations and needs. The expectations of those in the workforce are changing rapidly and will continue to do so with new generations coming through and I think the current models are evolving too slowly to retain motivated top talent.
I also think a key issue, or I should say opportunity, is around the evolution of what a successful lawyer’s skill set should be. With the diversification of teams happening more and businesses wanting to increasingly integrate and collaborate, a breadth of skills is going to be highly valued. The ability to manage multiple non-legal stakeholders, project management capabilities and greater commercial awareness will all be important if lawyers want to stand out.
We found in our research that a personal brand, networks and ‘soft skills’ are increasingly seen as the most important skills for lawyers to cultivate. The term ‘soft skills’ is always problematic as it implies these skills are secondary but they’re absolutely vital.
What advice would you give to somebody just starting their journey into a legal career?
Differentiate yourself! Build your own unique skill set and don’t just focus on technical expertise as most of your peers will have a similar, if not identical technical skill set. Communicate and market yourself well, the world of work is changing and it’s unlikely that you will stay with one employer for most of your career.
Foster greater business awareness and demonstrate an understanding of the wider context as far as it relates to your clients and business. The best lawyers will be those that can work with that context in mind and have the ability to work in diverse teams.
Also open your eyes as to where a career in law can take you. It doesn’t need to be a traditional, linear path. We’re seeing a younger generation of lawyers who are balancing their legal careers with other, often entirely different personal or business pursuits. Consulting has opened up all sorts of opportunities. You can also look at diversifying away from being a pure lawyer – there are exciting careers in legal tech, start-up advisory, business development and other options.
It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the legal industry, there’s unprecedented change happening and it’s going to be really interesting to see how quite an archaic industry bridges that gap. To be part of it now is a unique experience.
What is a typical day like for you?
It sounds like a stock answer to say that every day is different, but it very much is. One part of my role is putting together a varied programme of events for our consultants. If we have an event coming up, I typically spend time with speakers discussing and developing bespoke content and liaising with colleagues on the logistics. I also work with A&O to ensure we have a joined-up offering for our consultants in terms of resources and support from the firm.
I am usually working on some sort of content for our consultants, the most recent being a brochure about how to maximise their value as a consultant while on client assignments. I’m also currently working with A&O Consulting on a joint podcast we’ve produced which will be released to a variety of audiences.
My role is global so I support our three Asia Pacific offices which is really interesting as I have to deliver a consistent offering for each, but tailored for each region according to cultural and geographical nuances.
Are you currently working on any projects, or initiatives, that you think our readers may find interesting to hear about?
I’m very excited about an event we’re running next week. I was keen to equip our consultants with a better understanding around legal tech so we’ve taken a modular approach with it this year. We’re running an Intro to Legal Tech session in London (we’ve already held these in Hong Kong and Sydney) and then we’re going to get more in-depth around some topics over the course of the year. We’ve been working with A&O on it so it’s great to use their expertise and experience in the area.
As a business, we’re exploring different ways in which lawyers at the junior end of their careers can take greater control of their career path by doing legal consulting while maintaining career certainty and professional development. A lot of our current thinking is about how we can support the legal industry in adapting to new ways of working and what role we can play in helping to achieve the flexibility and adaptability that other industries are already successfully demonstrating, both on the client side and the consultant side.
What are you most looking forward to at Women in Law Summit?
I’m really looking forward to meeting the other delegates and speakers. We really believe that consulting offers a fantastic career path for lawyers at all levels and is a brilliant solution for businesses, so the team and I always look forward to sharing more about what we do and what we can offer. I like the fact that there’s a real breadth to the sessions during the day so I’m also looking forward to a number of talks taking place. I’m interested to get a sense of how things are changing within the industry and the key areas where we need to push more, both individually and as a collective.
The Women in Law Summit kicks off on 17th May 2019 at Olympia London. With limited tickets left, secure your place now to avoid disappointment.