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Transitioning to the Legal Sector - Insights from a Finance Business Partner

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Is it possible to successfully transition into a Commercial Finance leadership role in the legal sector, without having any prior law firm experience?

Traditionally, law firms have been hesitant to hire Commercial Finance specialists from outside of the legal sector.

  • They worry about how well these candidates will adapt to the specific culture of a law firm, which has its own beliefs and ways of doing things.

  • Some firms are stuck in the mindset of "this is how we've always done it" and are reluctant to change.

However, some law firms are becoming more open to hiring from outside of legal.

At Ambition, we know that it absolutely is possible to transition into the legal sector from other industries.

We have successfully placed several experienced leaders in Commercial Finance and Pricing into top law firms.

By welcoming talent from different sectors, these firms have benefitted from a more diverse talent pool and a wider range of skills and ideas.

How challenging is it to transition into the legal sector as a Finance Business Partner?

To find out, I reached out to two Finance Business Partners, Declan and Owen, who we placed into top 10 international law firms, to get their first-hand insights into the experience of transitioning to a law firm.

What has been the biggest challenge transitioning to working for a law firm?

Declan: The primary obstacle has been related to industry knowledge.

Real estate and the legal field are fundamentally distinct with the legal domain being notably specialised. Acquiring a profound comprehension of the legal domain, particularly the specific practice areas in which the law firm operates, has proven crucial.

Having a supportive team that has helped facilitate the gradual acquisition of this knowledge has been pivotal to easing the learning curve.

Owen: The lack of knowledge / experience in the legal world was the most challenging part of the transition.

Initially it was tricky to understand the nuance in the key issues / pressure points / KPIs and metrics for the team when providing advice. But over time you build up this knowledge.

What are the key similarities from your previous role as a Finance Business Partner to your current role?

D: In both roles analysing financial data to offer insights and recommendations that aid decision-making is key. This includes evaluating budgets, financial statements, and performance metrics, highlighting the importance of analytical skills across different industries.

Effective communication with diverse stakeholders, including senior management, department heads and team members is crucial in both positions. I'm tasked with translating financial data into actionable insights and presenting recommendations clearly.

Building financial models remains a vital skill for decision-making support and plays a central role whether evaluating investments, assessing risks or scenario planning.

​O: The core responsibilities of an Finance Business Partner are still the same in both the charity and legal sectors, so the key transferable skills relate to these responsibilities - interrogating figures, questioning, producing analysis, communicating effectively, influencing decisions etc.

Both Lawyers and Fundraisers are looking to maximise profitability (for different reasons) so boils down to assisting with this.

What experience were you able to draw from quite quickly after joining? ​

D: My background in financial analysis enabled me to assess, interpret and get up to speed with the financial data effectively. Being able to lean on my proficiency in financial modelling allowed me to create models for evaluating investments and assessing potential risks. These experiences facilitated a smooth transition into my new role.

​O: The nature of the role as a Finance Business Partner means that you need to constantly adapt your approach. As a support service you need to tailor your approach according to the needs of the teams you're supporting, which differ between teams and are constantly evolving - hence the role isn't static. This helped with the transition to a new sector.

The focus on client profitability, where to grow / maintain / move on from is quite similar to modelling the profitability of charity shop portfolio.

I also focused on the shape / size of fee earner teams to maximise efficiency of staff - similar to the charity sector where the focus is on efficiency with tight budgets.

What is your advice for people looking to move into the legal sector in a Finance Business Partner/ Commercial Finance role?

D: Familiarise yourself with the legal sector, including its key practice areas, KPIs, terminology and the specific financial challenges.

Learn about legal billing practices, regulatory requirements and industry-specific financial considerations.

Highlight your transferable skills such as financial analysis, budgeting, forecasting, financial modelling and emphasise how these skills can be applied to support legal practices.

​Find out more about a move into the legal sector

Read about how a Pricing Manager made the move into legal from industry here >

​If you're an experienced Commercial Finance specialist looking for a new opportunity in the legal sector, or if you're a hiring manager looking to recruit, feel free to reach out to me for a confidential discussion.

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