Peerpoint’s Carolyn Aldous: ‘I Ask Lawyers – What Makes You Happy?’

Allen & Overy’s Peerpoint is a flexible resourcing business – it’s also something that its Managing Director, Carolyn Aldous, firmly believes can help make lawyers happy and fulfilled in their professional lives – which is nice to hear, especially amid the ongoing debate about lawyer well-being.

As Aldous told Artificial Lawyer: ‘I ask lawyers who want to join Peerpoint: what makes you happy?’

This is because Peerpoint is all about helping lawyers find the right balance in their personal and professional lives, so asking about happiness is a good place to start.

‘We want to help lawyers to love law again,’ she added.

And the way this happens is by finding temporary gigs for commercial lawyers to work at for a couple of months or more at a time, whether attached directly to Allen & Overy, or with a client.

Those clients might be a top tier investment bank and the work you are doing focuses on complex derivatives, or it could be for a smaller company where you’re providing input on ESG compliance needs.

Either way, the key is to match up the right people and skills – and what they really want – with the right kinds of clients and work types.

Free The Lawyers!

The interview with Aldous yesterday also came at a propitious moment for Artificial Lawyer, as that morning this site’s founder had chaired a webinar for a legal tech company on stress, burnout and work/life satisfaction.

There were plenty of takeaways from the webinar, but one thought that struck this site was: why can’t you do top tier, complex, exciting legal work at a leading law firm, and not have to work so intensely and continuously? After all, law is an art, not a science. Lawyers are people, not machines. Why can’t you do some great lawyering for a few months and then take time off to get inspired again, or do something completely different, like write a book?

Why can’t you do valuable, cutting-edge work, but still live a balanced life? Why does there seem to be a terrible trade-off here, where if you want to advise Goldman Sachs on really interesting legal questions you also need to have basically ‘no life outside of work’ as you need to be part of the furniture at a major firm and that generally means incredibly long hours and few meaningful breaks?

In short, why does commercial law have to be so inflexible? Clients are paying for talent, for expertise – and yes, sometimes they are paying for deal management and the scale and huge resources a big firm can give – but at the core is the individual lawyer who has the know-how. Why can’t that talent….for want of a better word… free?

Freedom May Not Be For Everyone

Aldous explained that at present they have about 350 people in Peerpoint and have opened new bases in New York and most recently in the UAE. That number may rise, but it’s not expected to increase rapidly because people are always coming in and then leaving, often to join a client. (And they also have bases in Sydney, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and of course in London).

A classic journey is to start as a lawyer in a commercial firm, and about 40% of the Peerpoint consultants are from A&O. At Peerpoint they get a series of gigs through the flexible system, and then they may eventually find they really like working with a particular client and so they stay with them and get a regular job…..until they perhaps one day come back to Peerpoint.

But, as Aldous noted, being a consultant is not for everyone, or not necessarily forever. So there is a degree of churn. There is also the need for a particular mindset to be a consultant.

Even though Allen & Overy gives you a lot of support; training if you want it, e.g. on project management; provides professional indemnity insurance (which is no small thing in the UK, for example); and also helps you to find clients to work with – in short they do a lot for you – a consultant needs to be comfortable with a life that is relatively unpredictable.

Gigs will come to an end. A gig that is similar may not immediately be available again. And although Allen & Overy is very close by, at the end of the day you are not an employee of a global giant, you are an individual consultant.

‘You need to be OK with uncertainty and can keep moving into new environments, and not be overwhelmed by that,’ Aldous explained.

‘You also can’t be always asking when the next assignment will arrive,’ she added.

So, in short, if you want a flexible life then you need to be flexible as well. If you want to be free then you have to be able to handle that freedom.

‘If you don’t have that mindset there’s no benefit to anyone involved,’ Aldous concluded.

(Note: one of the paradoxes of freedom is that when people get a genuine taste of having no boundaries, no direct managers, and making all your own decisions, they don’t always like it. Equally, many long for that kind of freedom, but cannot attain it because the work they are best at is tied to operating through long-term employment where they will be micro-managed even when they would do far better managing themselves.)

Who Does This?

But, who are the lawyers who do this? They range from their mid-twenties up to partner level, with around half of the lawyers in Peerpoint in their mid-to-late thirties. Aldous noted that the gender split is 50/50 and that the reasons why people choose to have more flexibility are very diverse.

In terms of the money they make, Peerpoint cannot get into too much detail here, but Aldous said that the basic model is that consultants would make roughly the same per hour of work as they would based on their Post-Qualification Experience level as lawyers.

Artificial Lawyer then asked: ‘But, why not just do this by yourself and keep all the money?’ I.e. rather than receive a portion of the fee paid to Peerpoint, why not run your own one-person consultancy and keep all of the earnings?

Aldous noted that you could do that, for sure, but with Peerpoint you get access to Allen & Overy’s top tier, global client roster. You also get their support, as noted, in multiple ways. And – perhaps of most importance to someone who is freelance and providing a service for large companies, which are notoriously slow at paying sole-traders – Peerpoint makes sure money is collected to pay you within 14 days.

But, back to happiness.

At the end of the day, beyond the money, beyond the flexibility, Aldous reiterated that it’s all about finding satisfaction.

‘There is a real joy in working with a senior associate who may question their love of the law and is a bit exhausted,’ Aldous concluded.

And whether they stay with Peerpoint over the long-term and work flexibly for many years to come, or see it as a transitional phase of their life before finding another permanent role, Aldous hopes that they will all find happiness along the way.

Note: Artificial Lawyer – Holiday and West Coast Publishing: Next week is Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee and to celebrate this the UK will have a double Bank Holiday on Thursday and Friday, so Artificial Lawyer will only be publishing for three days next week.

Then, the week after, (from June 6), because of the need to get to San Francisco for Legal Innovators California and then take part in the conference, Artificial Lawyer will be publishing a little bit less, and generally working on a West Coast time-zone (PST), i.e. eight hours difference to the UK.