Adv. Heather Burgess Johnston is a jack of all trades with a wealth of experience across multiple practice groups. Recently she sat down with us to share her personal career development, how working as a freelance lawyer with LawFlex has enabled her to pursue alternative interests outside of law and why companies are starting to see the value proposition that ALSPs offer.
Tell us a little about your legal career from the beginning to your decision to work as a freelance lawyer.
For almost 2 decades, I worked in top law firms or as in-house counsel, culminating in a divisional general counsel role for a multi-billion-dollar international company. Right after law school, I worked for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and O’Melveny & Myers in their Los Angeles offices. I started my legal experience as a litigator, but after a period of time, transactional work started to call to me. At the law firms, I did commercial real estate (purchase and financing), land use, M&A, bankruptcy work, and acted as outside in-house counsel for clients needing that support. The in-house experience really appealed to me. I moved in-house and relocated to Austin, Texas (where I currently reside). My in-house experience was a jack of all trades one. I have experience in manufacturing, software licensing, SaaS based applications, product support, HR, real estate, M&A (buying and selling), CFIUS, litigation management, and the list goes on. Ultimately, I became the general counsel for the banking and payments global division and then the cybersecurity protection global division as well as serving as the general counsel for North America for all business divisions. With the acquisition of my company by a much larger company, I missed the hands on, varied experience prior to the acquisition and began to explore what I wanted for the next 20 years of my career.
How did you hear about LawFlex? In practice, how is it working with them?
I am part of a group of lawyers who are moms. It was someone in that group who mentioned LawFlex. I reached out and was immediately greeted by thoughtful professionals who took the time to get to know me. I had placements quickly. The team is very responsive. The clients I work with through LawFlex have provided interesting and challenging work. It is great when you are in a freelance position to feel that you continue to be challenged and grow.
What was the main factor that led you to go independent and start a career as a freelance lawyer?
While I do love being an attorney, I wanted to expand my career for more personal growth. I decided to pursue my Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counselling. Being a freelance attorney provided a wonderful opportunity to continue to practice law while being able to adjust to add a new career endeavor. Working as a freelance attorney allows me to continue the legal work I enjoy while balancing other career interests.
Tell us a little about your daily life as a freelance lawyer.
For the past two years as a freelance attorney, I have provided meaningful support to a wide range of clients on various topics. A majority of my focus as a freelance attorney is providing contractual, product and strategic guidance support to a range of companies from early-stage start-ups to growth stage companies. Many of these companies are in the technology space, including SaaS offerings. The freelance nature allows me flexibility for my other career aspirations.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect all of this?
When I decided to pursue freelance work, COVID-19 was already ongoing. I think it opened the minds of companies that effective support did not need to sit in your office. More companies embraced freelance work from a remote location.
What do you think about the ALSP revolution that has been gaining momentum in the legal market in recent years?
The ALSP movement allows companies to level up or down the legal support they need. Whether it is a smaller company starting out, a growth stage company or a large corporation addressing financial pressures, ALSP allows these companies to leverage legal support commensurate with their needs. It allows companies to protect their interests, but not have to undertake big financial commitments (like hiring a full-time employee). With companies embracing the idea that remote work is possible, and the ability to scale based on need, the ALSP movement is growing into a revolution.