As law firms, like all other business, have been forced by the pandemic to find ways to continue providing their services with their teams remotely, the leap to hiring remote contract or freelance lawyers has become much smaller as we all seen how easy it is to communicate and collaborate with today’s technology.
The legal profession now only rarely accepts the rigidly adhered to inflexible, traditional hiring model where an associate lawyer is either hired as a full-time employee or is not hired at all. Flexible, part-time, and project-based employment engagements continues to be seen as a practical and efficient solution for law firms needing temporary assistance to meet business growth, spikes and peaks.
Here are five ways that law firms can best use freelance lawyers and why they should apply this model:
1. Law Practices Need Lawyers for Short-Term Assistance
Hiring situations are often complicated but become even more complicated when the need for additional lawyer assistance is to handle overflow work for a relatively short duration. Further complicating matters is the fact that overflow work may arise with little or no notice at all. When such circumstances arise, the option of hiring a new lawyer as a full-time employee requires the ongoing task for supervising lawyers of keeping the new lawyer busy with work, which means either having to acquire even more work for the new lawyer after the overflow period passes or, if additional work is not available, the law practice losing money on the inefficiency of that new lawyer’s downtime. These factors often lead law practices needing short-term lawyer assistance to not bother with hiring at all.
The troubling results of law practices not hiring in these types of situations is that they are then forced to turn down work due to a lack of capacity. That, in turn, results in lost earnings and additionally creates a severe limitation on the growth of the law practice on an ongoing basis, as the same situation will likely repeat time and again in the future. And in today’s extraordinarily competitive legal market, no law practice wants to turn down additional work, especially for the reason of lacking lawyers.
2. New Lawyers Are Useful Without Significant Experience or Training
Yes, it’s true. One main reason for the limited options currently available to law practices needing to hire for short-term work is the perception that lawyers “need” a significant amount of experience and/or training before they can be productive and useful. For that reason, law practices needing ready help in peak workflow and overflow times don’t think of turning to new and emerging lawyers for freelance work, as it is thought that such lawyers will not be productive immediately.
However, in most cases this perceived need for lawyers with prior experience and/or training is oftentimes overestimated or exaggerated. Further, when experience is deemed necessary, such need usually results from an absence of effective training. If effective training is available, new lawyers, even in complex matters, can be productive and useful immediately. But more often that not there exists a fair amount of research and/or drafting in most associate level work that can be done by entry level associates having only 2-4 years of experience and some research and writing can be completed by new grads.
3. Law Practices ’“Temporary” Needs Include More Than Just Document Reviews
As a result of the current lack of options available to law practices needing help with overflow work, coupled with the general perception that training or deep experience is needed, most overflow work today is strictly limited to menial tasks such as large document reviews of basic information, which oftentimes is not even legal-related. This review work is then contracted out to lawyers or legal consulting firms that place large numbers of reviewers quickly on a limited basis.
However, law practices’ needs for assistance with overflow legal work often include far more than just document review work. In fact, document review is typically an infrequent task for a lawyer. Thus, law practices are missing valuable opportunities by restricting hiring for overflow work to just contracting out document reviews. Law practices have much more to gain by engaging contract or project-based lawyers for the type of work that goes beyond just document reviews, such as drafting and legal research, and should take advantage of such an opportunity during peak workflow and overflow times.
4. New Lawyers Are Eager to Both Work and Gain Substantive Legal Experience
The dreaded document review…not a very meaningful way to start a career for a newly minted lawyer. Document review work has been described as mind-numbing, unsatisfying, and low paying. As new lawyers seek to start-up their careers, they need and want to gain substantive legal experience. But document review work, which is most accessible to them, fails to provide substantive legal experience.
By implementing a flexible lawyer hiring model, new and emerging lawyers will be able to say “goodbye!” to those dreaded document reviews and instead say “hello!” to readily acquiring challenging and higher-paying legal work, gaining the much-needed substantive experience, and augmenting their current workloads. Thus, these lawyers who are so eager to work and are readily available to work when needed will be tremendously valuable additions to law practices with short-term hiring needs.
5. This Flexible, As-Needed Hiring Model Is Industry Standard in Other Professions
The better method that is needed in the lawyer job market is the solution that has been developing in other professional and business services fields, such as technology development, over the past 10 years: a freelance hiring model. For example, in the technology development field, the hiring model of accessing highly skilled, freelance, temporary help as-needed is an industry standard. As such, the freelance hiring model has gained tremendous traction and moreover, in the current job market, is often the preferred lifestyle choice among today’s new graduates.
Now is the time for the legal profession to swiftly embrace this flexible, freelance, project-based hiring model. By implementing such hiring model, law practices will win big by easily and quickly identifying quality, freelance lawyers who are eager to take on their overflow legal work whenever needed. As a beneficial result, those law practices will have the coverage “elasticity” that is available in almost every other part of the labor market today. And as an added benefit to the profession, new and emerging freelance lawyers will also win big by more easily finding work and gaining greatly desired substantive legal experience.
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