From managing partner to management consultant
Maury Shenk was the managing partner of the London office of a US firm when he decided to switch to management consultancy. He now works for Trinsum, an international strategic and financial advisory firm that has a focus on helping clients accelerate their value growth. We asked him why he made the move 15 years into his legal career, how he found the change and what the differences are to practising law…
mtl: Hi Maury, please can you tell us about your legal career first?
Maury: I studied law at Stanford and then clerked at the US Federal Court of Appeals for a year, before joining Steptoe & Johnson in Washington DC. I have always been interested in languages and S&J had a great international law practice, which is what I wanted to do. After a couple of years though, I began to shift into telecoms and e-commerce work and by the end of the ‘90’s I described myself as a technology lawyer.
After seven years at the firm I was made a partner in 2000, at about the same time that the firm merged with a small City firm in London, which had a strong technology practice. There was a need for a US presence in London and it made sense for me to go as I was a new partner and there was a good fit in terms of specialty. I could still work for my existing clients online and I had personal reasons for wanting to be in Europe at the time.
I worked in London for a further seven years, during which time I was appointed as the managing partner of the London office. I worked with the senior management of the firm to turn the London office of the firm around by making it profitable.
mtl: So why did you get itchy feet?
Maury: I found that the work had started to become repetitive and that the part I found the most interesting was the transactional side, something that wasn’t too available in my role. I’d also been very successful in a short space of time in that I was a managing partner at a relatively young age. I looked at what I was doing and couldn’t envisage doing it for another 20 years. The safer financial option was to stay put but it didn’t inspire me.
In 2006 I started to look around at what else was out there. However at the same time the firm agreed that I could cut back my hours to 80% so that I could spend some time on a business that I’d invested in. This helped with the angst, but didn’t cure it completely, so I decided to look around more seriously at other options.
B.A. in History and Science, Harvard
Clerking at the US Court of Appeals, 9th circuit
Associate and then Partner, Steptoe & Johnson, Washington DC
Partner and then Managing Partner, Steptoe & Johnson, London
Joined Trinsum as a management consultant
First I considered moving to a leading transactional firm in London. I looked at jobs in business and thought about working as the CEO for the start-up that I’d invested in. My third option evolved from speaking to a friend who I’d been at law school with. He was a partner at a management consultancy firm called Trinsum and we chatted over dinner about the possibility of me working there. Two years after first thinking about a move, I made the switch.
mtl: Tell us about Trinsum and how your new working life compares to practising law?
Maury: Trinsum is a boutique consultancy with a focus on strategy, risk and banking and has about 60 fee-earners in London. It’s a bit more bespoke and we use smaller teams than the likes of McKinsey, Bain and BCG but my colleagues are extremely intelligent and we can still compete with them, albeit on a different model.
My career change has been an incredible learning experience. I underestimated what the move would involve and felt that as I’d been a good lawyer and was an academic achiever, I would switch seamlessly into another professional services environment. I joined as a principal, which is the level below partner and of course it required a mental shift to get used to not being the boss anymore. Nearly a year later I finally feel like I am getting up to speed and that I have now mastered the basic consulting tools.
In retrospect I feel like I only used about 20% of my brain as a lawyer because of the repetition. Also, although I had great clients, I never felt that what I did had any great significance for them. I now work with CEOs and CFOs of companies and the work is very exciting.
The main difference to working in the legal sector is that in law clients come to you for an answer. If you are experienced then you will know the answer already or at least know the framework in which to do the research (or get someone else to do it). In consulting, our advice is all about ideas, which we bounce around and challenge each other over and in some cases we start again from scratch if an idea doesn’t work.
In law you try to be right 100% of the time but in business the right answer is much less obvious. There is a whole new complex language of frameworks to learn. We spend a lot more time looking at processes, audiences and how to structure an issue. It helps that Trinsum has very good training and a fantastic development programme. The firm is also upfront about your weaknesses and what you need to improve on, so you always know where you stand.
The working style in consulting is much more collaborative. We meet in teams to discuss ideas and processes and so each day at work is much more interactive. The business world is more aggressive and people are more challenging of each other than in law. Lawyers are judged primarily by their “ability, availability and affability”. In contrast, the business world is “dog eat dog” and there is a dynamic tension in the work-place, even in a nice firm like Trinsum. This takes some getting used to.
As well as being a consultant, I frequently speak and write on topics relating to technology. I still serve as non-executive director of the early-stage communications company that I’ve invested in, as well as of seven wholly-owned European subsidiaries of a North American satellite services provider. I spend a couple of hours a week outside of consulting on these.
mtl: What should a lawyer considering a move to consulting think about?
Maury: You need to have a real interest in business and you have to be ready for the business world. It is more competitive and less academic than the legal world, which won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Although law is a people profession, you really have to like people as a management consultant as the work is always very team oriented. If you look at your clients and think that you’d rather be helping them run their business than answering ad hoc questions or documenting transactions, then certainly consider consultancy.
It was unusual for me to have been hired at the level I was and it was because I knew a partner at the firm and I had a successful record in law. Normally, if you don’t have an MBA you would be taken on as an associate consultant (the bottom rung), even as an experienced hire, or perhaps a consultant if you had some prior business experience. Even MBA graduates will normally only come in as consultants, so you have to be aware of a significant pay cut and loss of responsibility while you learn the ropes. Above consultants at Trinsum are managers, principals and then partners.
Consultancies have very high attrition rates because consultants often go on to get jobs in their clients’ businesses after developing a strong relationship with them. The path out of consulting is therefore very clear and this kind of move is very different to going in-house in law. Strategy consulting within a consultancy compared to within a company is not a very different beast, whereas law in private practice and working in-house are very different roles.
Also be aware that consultants often have a demanding travel schedule. I don’t personally as my clients are based in London, but it is usual to be sent abroad on a weekly or project basis.
There’s not a huge amount that I miss about law, though some days I miss the simplicity of being able to just give “an answer.” Now I know about my interest in business I could be further down the line if I’d moved earlier. However I gained some great experience as a managing partner and developed a lot from having to make decisions in that role, and from specialising in technology over a number of years.
mtl: Do you have any tips on career change and what are your plans for the future?
Maury: Think very carefully about what it is that you want to do and consider several options. The best advice I was given was to think of it as a “multi-year” project. It was liberating to realise that I didn’t have to make a change overnight. However don’t be afraid to make the change when you do have a good opportunity. From what I’ve seen, career changes do tend to work out, and mine has so far, so if you feel the need to do it then do it. I’m very glad that I made the move.
It is a very big jump to move into a different profession though and I wouldn’t do it a second time. In consulting people frequently move into a business role and I could do that but it would be to something that uses the skills I already have. At the moment I’m learning a lot and have a lot of variety. I’ve always worked with a two or three year time horizon as long as I’m enjoying myself and I see myself at Trinsum for the foreseeable future. I stayed at S&J for fourteen years so I’m not such a restless spirit that I need constant change.
I’ve found that it helps to have sectoral expertise and it is great to be able to use this in a new field of work. I’m working with a partner here to build up expertise in telecoms and whereas I’ve had to work hard to grasp the consulting skills, I have more technical experience in this field than my colleagues do, which comes in useful. I would recommend trying to take sector knowledge with you in a career change.
mtl: Thank you for your time.
Click here to see Trinsum’s website.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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