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December 2017

8 Things Law Firms Need to Understand About Project Lawyers

In a difficult job market, it might seem like lawyers seeking project work will accept just about any type of work available. However, that’s an oversimplification of the matter. As firms hire on a project-basis, it can be easy to overlook what project lawyers are seeking in project work opportunities.

Why should law firms care? Because, by first understanding what project lawyers seek in work opportunities, firms can then customize their project positions to incorporate those things that matter to project lawyers. Doing so can result in attracting more highly-qualified candidates for project positions.

Though not an exclusive list, here are eight things that firms should understand about project lawyers:

1) Meaningful and valued work

Project lawyers seek work that’s meaningful to them. Many project lawyers are millennials, a generation known for wanting to do work that seems like it’s making a difference.

That’s why rote document reviews alone are a tremendous mismatch with millennial lawyers. Solely reading page after page just to classify information for eight or more hours every day, week after week, is not meaningful work.

Because much of project work involves working directly on actual legal work, project lawyers gravitate to such meaningful work opportunities. Equally important, project lawyers want to know that someone else values their work. Project lawyers will be drawn to projects where they feel welcomed as part of the team, rather than being regarded as mere outside help.

Document reviews and legal process outsourcing focus on OUTsourcing legal work, while project work is INclusive. It’s important that, as alternative work arrangements continue to proliferate within the legal profession, firms and project lawyers emphasize teamwork and comradery with project work.

2) Predictable, clearly defined work

With project work growing in popularity, some firms have tried to incorporate project work into their direct hiring structures. However, there’s a reason why project work is best accommodated via an independent e-hiring platform: project lawyers want predictable, clearly-defined work.

The notion of hiring in advance for when a firm might need project lawyers in the future on an undefined, unpredictable, as-needed basis is not attractive to project lawyers. Plus, that’s not a very equitable arrangement, as the employer gets all of the advantages of having as-needed staff, while merely assuring projects lawyers that, if and when there is work to do, they must be available to help.

Project lawyers want and need predictable work. Project work achieves this by providing an on-demand hiring site through which firms can hire when they actually have work. This provides the necessary equitable arrangement that gives project lawyers predictable work.

Project lawyers also want clearly defined work. The freelance nature of project work requires clearly articulated work and instructions. Lawyers often have their own unique preferences for completed work.

Thus, when supervising lawyers create projects, they should clearly instruct the project lawyers about any such specifics in terms of what they’re expecting to see in the work. Plus, project lawyers need to know details about projects in order to decide if they are interested in and available for the projects. A specific, detailed project position post helps firms find the right candidates.

3) Quick start date and turnaround time

Many project lawyers want to work ASAP! Project work is, by design, non-continuous work in the way that traditional employment is. For project lawyers, project work is what they do as their job. For that reason, projects that start relatively soon after posting the position will tend to be more intriguing.

Employers are used to planning and projecting their hiring needs for the future, which is important. However, it’s important that most projects have a reasonably soon start date, in order to attract a competitive field of available, qualified candidates.

Project lawyers are looking for their next work opportunities and will naturally gravitate to the next available projects. Firms with projected hiring needs for the future might benefit by considering either posting their hiring needs reasonably close to the projected start dates or mentioning why they’re posting well in advance (i.e. major project, seeking unique experience, etc.).

Project work is uniquely suited to help both those seeking and needing work in quick timeframes that don’t readily exist elsewhere in the job market.

4) Competitive compensation

Compensation is very important to project lawyers. Let’s distinguish between two different groups of project lawyers. First, there are experienced project lawyers with valuable expertise. Second, there are entry-level lawyers. Though less experienced, they’re still lawyers and should be paid competitively.

Many entry-level lawyers are effective, independent workers who need little instruction or supervision. There’s an overwhelming abundance of document review projects out there that offer somewhat decent compensation.

For both experienced and entry-level lawyers, project work is an advantageous alternative to document reviews, provided that the compensation is competitive with or superior to the compensation for document reviews.

Firms should remember that project lawyers are independent contractors. Thus, they don’t have the salaries and benefits that employees have. Firms can establish good, ongoing, working relationships with project lawyers by providing competitive compensation.

As with permanent employment, a great way to retain top talent is to offer competitive compensation. The same is true for project work.

5) Substantive experience

“Experience” – the keyword for every lawyer. There’s “experience” and then there’s “substantive experience.” And the difference matters. Project lawyers of all experience levels particularly seek “substantive experience” opportunities. The reasons are simple.

For lawyers starting out their careers, gaining substantive experience to put on their resumes is essential. In that regard, project work is superior to document review work, as project work provides substantive experience that document reviews do not.

Firms hiring project lawyers should highlight and emphasize ALL substantive legal work included in their projects. For experienced lawyers, project work provides the substantive experience opportunities necessary to keep their careers going strong. Project work is also ideal for lawyers who specialize in particular niches.

Substantive experience also provides project lawyers with ways to morph into different practice areas, in which they may have always wanted to practice, but never had the chance to. The legal professional has become so specialized that it has become increasingly difficult to switch practices areas.

However, project work provides abundant opportunities to work in different practice areas and, in so doing, project lawyers can find work which they enjoy doing that simultaneously benefits firms too.

6) The prospect of additional work and/or employment

Part of what makes project work so efficient is that it’s limited, finite, and focused on addressing specific work needs.

If not properly worded in a job post, this efficiency (limited work) can easily sound like too little work for too much effort (applying and getting the job). Firms that expect to have additional work in the future should say so in their project position posts.

Similarly, some firms might use project work as a way to evaluate potential candidates’ work quality for an anticipated associate or similar position. Such firms might benefit by saying so in their project position posts, because they can attract the right candidates seeking those very opportunities.

Plus, many project lawyers seek employment while doing project work. It does no good if a firm posts a project position, doesn’t mention the anticipated associate position in the future, and all of the candidates applying just want to work part-time.

So, find the right candidates by simply mentioning the prospect of additional work or future employment when applicable.

7) Convenient work arrangements

Convenience is a key part to what makes project work so attractive to project lawyers. Lawyers seeking project work do so for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to work part-time, working while job searching, wanting better work/life balance, etc. And convenience is essential to them.

Firms should create reasonable work arrangements that fit with the types of projects. While there’s no one way to do this, firms should consider arrangements such as flextime or remote work when possible.

Speaking of remote work, because millennial lawyers grew up with technology, they see more opportunities to do work remotely. Similarly, project lawyers seek flexibility with work hours. Work can still get done on time, but simply mentioning work hours flexibility will be welcomed by project lawyers.

Whether work is on-site, remote, scheduled hours, or flextime, project lawyers want (and are increasingly coming to expect) more convenient work arrangements that further their career objectives. Employers can more easily find top talent by simply incorporating some convenience into their positions.

8) Feedback and mentorship

Many project lawyers are millennials, a generation known for valuing collaboration. Similarly, they also value feedback and mentorship. To busy professionals, feedback and mentorship might sound time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, because supervising lawyers are so busy, it’s essential that the project lawyers whom they supervise get the work done right. Providing quick feedback to project lawyers during and after projects is an easy and efficient way to improve work quality, which ends up saving time for the busy supervising lawyer.

Many project lawyers are either new or emerging lawyers in the early parts of their careers. Because they aren’t employees who regularly work in-office, they’re eager to learn while developing as professionals. Thus, many project lawyers welcome feedback.

Project lawyers also appreciate and value mentorship. Contrary to how it may sound, mentorship doesn’t need to be time consuming. Mentorship often happens simply as a result of working together.

While work time is very valuable for lawyers, spending just a little time on mentorship can help shape the future of the legal profession in the right direction – certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

The takeaway

By understanding what’s important to project lawyers, firms can customize their same project work positions in ways that are well suited to attract the right project lawyers. Those firms that best connect with the things that are important to project lawyers are more likely to more easily hire project lawyers and, in turn, receive better quality work.

While incorporating some of these things into project work positions may be new to some firms at first, doing so just might prove to be well worth the effort.

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