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Career Choice: Contract Manager or Lawyer?

November 21, 2012

A quick look at the Appointments pages, or a glance at salary surveys, would seem to provide a rapid answer to this question. Being a practicing lawyer is clearly a far better career choice than contract or commercial management. Right?

Not according to two senior in-house counsel that I interviewed yesterday. Both come from large international corporations that employ several hundred legal and contract management professionals. And both – one a General Counsel, the other a VP of Legal – told me that they believe the contract management role is steadily becoming far more important than that of the lawyer.

Of course, neither was suggesting that the law profession is about to go into massive retreat. And both see contract management as a future direction for many qualified lawyers. But their observation of business needs and trends has led them to conclude that Contract Management will be a critical function for 21st century business, ensuring not just the integrity of pre-award processes, but ensuring the delivery of commercial benefits.

But if you are a contract manager, don’t start celebrating yet. You can’t simply sit back and wait for that promotion or increased recognition. The role that is being described is broad in its skill requirements and demands a role and contribution that only a few would match today. Legal understanding is certainly part of it; but as was demonstrated in IACCM’s recent ‘Future of Contracting’ study, the role must encompass solid financial and risk awareness, a grasp of project management disciplines, market and business intelligence as well as softer skills such as communications, analytical, problem solving and negotiation. It demands true ‘solution providers’ who are not focused on transactional ‘fixes’, but are bringing sustainable improvement to business performance and competitiveness.

Both of the organizations that I interviewed are investing heavily in building and developing these capabilities. They see an urgent need for greater engagement by the university sector, so that contract and commercial management are seen as viable career paths by the school leaver and the graduate.

With so many lawyers now entering the market, a growing number are converting to contract and commercial management roles. But in future, I believe we can expect a real choice, where individuals train to become contracts or commercial professionals, rather than falling into the role from another business discipline.


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