The career path in the legal sector has traditionally been one of two routes – private practice or in-house counsel. The rise of independent professionals has driven an employment revolution in the EU.
Law firms and business alike are beginning to fully tap into this highly skilled professional network.
According to the European Forum of Independent Professionals (EFIP), the number of freelancers in the EU rose by a quarter (24%) from 7.7 million to 9.6 million between 2008 and 2015.
As technology slowly shapes and changes our social and economic world, the legal sector is now seeing a generational shift in the way young solicitors view the legal sector and their careers within it.
A survey conducted by Eversheds concluded that young lawyers feel that the traditional career path to being a partner is out of step with the 21st Century.
The survey, which focused on young lawyers and their views on the legal sector, also highlighted that young legal professionals want a change in work-life balance as well as their physical environment, and desire to create a more human workplace.
While lawyers who took part in the survey were mostly still happy with their careers, the shift in ambitions and a new global outlook to their careers is now beginning to permeate in the firms they work for as they move towards management.
The benefits of freelancing
A self-employed lawyer working on a freelance basis has the benefit of dictating their own workload and working hours, taking control of not only their income, but cultivating a healthy work-life balance.
Freelancers are more likely to take on manageable workloads and are able to focus on projects efficiently rather than juggling multiple caseloads and working longer hours. This will inevitably affect productivity in a positive way.
Many experienced lawyers who turn to freelancing usually choose the option to work from home in order to have more time with their families, while still being able to cultivate a successful career.
Loss of security, benefits and career certainty are the most obvious worries for any independent professional. Freelancers who decide to work on projects with private practices or business in-house are often challenged to deal with changing environments and levels of pressure, while still needing to achieve client expectations.
Maintaining job security requires a freelancer to have the right skills in order to secure future roles and develop an attractive work portfolio. Many young freelancers are now turning to their knowledge of new technologies and business models to market themselves.
Benefits to business
Hiring contracted lawyers to support with work overflow is commonplace in the legal sector – usually when permanent employees are absent due to prolonged illness or maternity leave. A fully staffed law firm with a sudden increase in workload will naturally want to hire contracted legal professionals for a short period of time.
Freelance lawyers are adaptable, self-motivated and resilient individuals who are committed to the cases and projects that they work on. Their aim is to provide the businesses they work for the same high-quality service that it delivers to its clients.
Employing contracted lawyers is generally cheaper than hiring permanent council as savings are made on the additional cost of insurance, employee benefits and national insurance. Law firms are also able to take advantage of establishing long-term relationships with freelancers who are more willing to work on future projects to build their portfolio.
Dedicating time to business development is vital to increasing a law firm’s client portfolio.
Outsourcing legal work to a freelance lawyer can allow partners to network and build relationships without neglecting their current workload.
Smaller firms or solo practitioners that are given cases where they lack certain expertise, are able to utilize freelancers with in-depth knowledge of a practice area. This allows the legal practice to take on cases that would usually be referred to another firm.
Businesses are now more open to legal resources on an ad-hoc basis or contracting project-based freelancers for strategy planning. This allows them to utilize a vast skill set and acquire added value (which is only an email away) in a more cost-effective way.
Technology and security
The legal freelance market is booming and growth in technology and social hubs increasingly make it possible for freelancers to continue to secure work if they market themselves in the right way.
Lawyers on Demand (LOD), one of the original online providers of contract lawyers, partners with business and law firms to provide access to its database of over 600 freelance lawyers and consultants.
LOD has continued to achieve ongoing success. It recently merged with fellow agile working provider AdventBalance and is now the largest provider of contract lawyers in the world.
Competitors such as Legal and Contract Services and Lawbite offer cost-effective online solutions to SME and larger businesses by providing fast and efficient legal advice. This allows smaller business access high-quality legal services from drafting employment agreements to resolving disputes.
Established law firms are also taking the lead from online legal providers and are increasingly attempting to tap into the legal temporary market.
Pinsent Mason’s Vario is a hub of freelance legal professionals (dubbed as ‘Varios’) who work on a flexible basis with their clients.
Varios choose the hours and practice areas they wish to be assigned to and are paired with appropriate assignments. Varios are also able to request to work on in-depth projects in order to develop their expertise. Clients have the peace of mind that the work will meet expectations as the contracted legal professional is backed by Pinsent and Mason.
Data-centre security is a crucial part of any business providing legal services as law firms and lawyers are entrusted with sensitive information from their clients. This also includes data sent via internal or external emails to legal practitioners within a business or working remotely.
A 2015 annual report conducted by Cisco Systems stated the law firms are the seventh most vulnerable industry to “malware encounters”.
Many legal service providers now use sophisticated data monitoring and encryption tools to manage sensitive data within the business.
Digital Guardian develops data loss prevention software to help legal practices and other business safely encrypt, store, restrict and monitor sensitive data wherever it’s sent. All data across multiple devices is controlled and stored in the cloud and protected against internal and external threats.
Virtru is used widely in the legal sector to encrypt emails and files before sending and users are able to manage who sees information being sent, control and view forwarding options and revoke emails after they’ve been read.
This technology allows freelance lawyers to maintain the flexibility of working in-house or remotely without affecting their quality of work. Private practices and business also have control and peace-of-mind data that data is secure, while also evolving the technical framework of the legal sector in line with the commercial market.
The traditional approach to the workforce is slowly changing and a new generation of lawyers could shift the partnership model in the future. Freelancers have a variety of practice area expertise, are adaptable and have a hands-on commercial approach to their work.
Law firms would be wise to use flexible resourcing in the future to gain a competitive advantage while nurturing a tech-savvy young workforce who use new technology to achieve better results for their clients.