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June 2017

5 Ways Law Practices Benefit from Project-Based Legal Work

Hiring can be inherently risky, especially in a highly-competitive legal market, as there’s really no slack for making a bad hire. As established law practices seek to hire lawyers, project-based legal work is a stellar way to dramatically reduce the risks inherent in both hiring and employment. We explore five ways that established law practices benefit from incorporating project-based legal work as part of their hiring and employment practices.

1.  Reduce Financial Risk

Hiring is an important financial decision for established law practices. Of the many financial considerations involved with hiring, salary and overhead expenses are two main considerations. The legal market has lacked a flexible hiring model. That flexible hiring model – project work – is the solution because it reduces the financial risks to established law practices seeking to hire to get work done cost-effectively, without long-term employment commitments. Project work is the perfect way to hire as-needed. No other hiring model provides such on-demand, cost-effective flexibility. The result is that established law practices only pay for hours worked. Additionally, project work can eliminate or reduce overhead expenses associated with permanent employment. With project work, established law practices can greatly increase their work efficiency and thus increase their profitability.

2.  Assess Lawyer's’ Work Product Quality

The resumes are great. But, with traditional hiring, there’s no real way to know the quality of lawyers’ work product until after they start working. Sports teams have tryouts for a reason – to see the players play. Yet, in law and most all other professions, there’s no such evaluation beyond resume reviews. Until now, there has not really been an efficient way to tryout lawyers. Though “temp-to-perm” positions might seem similar, project work is very different. The temp-to-perm hiring model is problematic for both employers and independent contractors because temp-to-perm lacks the flexibility that project work has. Temp-to-perm positions aren’t appealing to many new and emerging lawyers because the commitment period is often far too long. Oftentimes, the “temp” part of the temp-to-perm position can continue on for many months with no guarantee that the “to-perm” part will ever materialize. Such an ongoing timeframe can make the temp lawyer feel unmotivated and uncertain because the potential permanent employment is simply too distant. Additionally, temp work is usually less challenging and is not the type of work that provides an adequate assessment of a lawyer’s full capability. As a result, temp-to-perm largely fails to let temp lawyers showcase their abilities in a natural work setting. Thus, established law practices may not actually get to see the temp lawyers’ ability levels and may risk making the wrong hiring decisions.

Unlike temp-to-perm, project work provides flexibility because the work can be customized either as long-term projects or as more brief, limited, and finite engagements. The per-project nature of project work can also make project lawyers feel motivated to prove how good their work is and how qualified they are, in hopes of working on more projects. As project lawyers continue to impress established law practices, potential talks of permanent employment can arise naturally at the right time, unlike temp-to-perm. Overall, project work is a far superior way to assess work product quality, whether for ongoing project work and/or for trying out lawyers as potential permanent hires.

3.  Know How Well You Work Together

So your established law practice needs to hire an associate. You spend your valuable work time reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates until you find a person who seems right for the position. However, you don’t really know how well or not well you will work together, since work is a lot different than an interview. Then you spend even more of your valuable work time helping the newly-hired lawyer get started at your firm. After all of the time you’ve invested, you can only hope you work well together. Synergy is key to the success of law practices. The team needs to work together and get along well. Clients can easily notice a good or bad team. Ultimately, the quality of a team affects profitability.

Project work can also eliminate the need to interview! Now, a short list of qualified candidates can come to you and you can make a project-based hiring decision. Plus, that one limited engagement on a project can show if the project lawyer is a quick study or not. For some solo practitioners and small firms, the idea of on-boarding a new associate might seem risky due to their small office environment where collegiality is essential. Project work provides a built-in time frame for solo and small law practices to gradually on-board a new associate without any long-term commitments or decisions. Project work is the perfect solution because it takes the risk out of such considerations and substitutes in flexibility.

4.  Find Good Candidates

When established law practices try to find the right lawyers to hire, there aren’t many good ways of doing so. Traditionally, posting a position invites a seemingly endless collection of resumes that takes so much time and effort to review. Also, with all those applications, it can be easy to overlook the truly best candidates due to the high volume of applications. Project work helps established law practices find the best candidates in a few ways. First, they won’t have stacks of resumes to review. Instead, they’ll get a shortlist of qualified candidates and still have 100% control of who they want to hire. Second, project work can show how dedicated a lawyer is to a project and a law practice for purposes of future work (whether projects or employment), which the traditional hiring model lacks. Third, project work allows project lawyers to decide if they enjoy working for certain established law practices.

5.  Increase Efficiency

Profitability is maximized when efficiency is maximized. Efficiency is difficult to implement. We’ve discussed in previous blog articles how the billable hour can impede efficiency (The Billable Hour: Reduced Risk of Uncompensated Time or Impediment to Increased Profit Margins?) and how the overall distribution of legal work can be improved upon to increase efficiency (Law Needs a Better Distribution Model). By limiting hiring to only permanent positions, abundant opportunities to increase efficiency and thereby profitability are completely missed. The need for efficiency abounds, as many law practices struggle to compete in today’s market and other law practices can’t expand.

Project work is built upon efficiency. Project work is efficient because established law practices will only pay for hours worked, without many other costs associated with permanent employment. Project work is efficient because it’s focused. A project lawyer gets a specific assignment. Time is spent solely working on that assignment. Details of an assignment can easily be thoroughly addressed because it is a focused, finite assignment. Project work facilitates clear communication, which ultimately saves time by ensuring that the work gets done right.

Conclusion

With all the unavoidable business risks, don’t needlessly incur more risk when it comes to hiring lawyers for your established law practice. The flexibility of project work makes project work a practical and cost-effective option for established law practices. With project work, established law practices can find affordable and available assistance quickly and easily. So, no more need to wait to sort out all of the details that would be needed for a traditional interview and hiring process. Now you can hire according to the specific needs of your practice without the risks.

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