Is freelance lawyering an option for you?
If there is one term that has dominated the news headlines for the east couple of years, when it comes to the world of work that is, it’s the so-called ‘gig’ economy. Or as you and I would probably call it, ‘freelancing’. This catch-all phrase has been used to describe the increased use of independent consultants by firms for specific roles, so could the life of a freelance lawyer work for you?
From Addleshaw Goddard and Allen & Overy to Pinsent Masons and Simmons & Simmons, law firms are increasingly turning to or launching their own flexible resourcing services that offer consultant lawyers the opportunity to ‘do it for themselves’.
These new services mirror that other key development within the sector – the rise of the virtual law firm. But what is the difference between operating as an independent consultant or a permanent employer, and are there any advantages of doing so?
One of the main differentiators is that self-employed consultants are typically free agents who are not bound by exclusivity. This means they can choose the assignments that suit them best.
Not everyone wants to spend their every waking hour working as a lawyer…. which we find most strange!! Working as an independent provides a flexibility that enables lawyers to pursue other and more varied interests. For instance, some operate as a lawyer a few days a week but as an advisor or something entirely unrelated to the law the rest of the time.
More than a better work/life balance
Surprisingly, it’s not necessarily the wish to improve their workloads and free up time to spend with family and friends that is the key motivator for lawyers pursuing and ultimately remaining in a freelance role. A survey conducted by Vario, the consultant arm of Pinsent Masons, found that the variety and quality of work and the skills that can be learned are the most popular motivators. Others include the ability to network with fellow professionals across several firms and build their personal brand, along with the chance to build relationships with a broader mix of clients.
But life as a freelancer is not always as rosy as many would have you believe, especially when it comes to job security.
Charging a day rate for the work you do is all very well, but while you would expect to be working 20-22 days each month as an in-house lawyer, as a freelancer that could be considerably less.
Assignments will typically run for six and 12 months but there is often a gap between an assignment ending and the next one beginning with some industry analysts suggesting that freelance lawyers could be losing out on several weeks’ work (and pay of course).
Then there is the lack of career progression. If you have ambitions to work your way up to the top table, for instance, the path you take as a freelancer is less defined and more ambiguous than what it would be for an in-house or private practice lawyer. And let’s not forget the solitude factor, too.
Working on your own each day may sound an attractive proposition in the early stages of your freelance career, but after time it may start to lose its shine as the feeling of isolation sets in. Even if you are working on site, as it were, you are technically a contractor not an employee and therefore you may not feel – or be embraced – as part of the team.
Freelancing certainly has its pluses and minuses and law firms are more open to working with consultants now than every before. However, this is not a soft career option for those wanting an ‘easier’ life or those who have been made redundant seeking to re-enter the world of work as soon as possible.
The selection process can be just as tough if not harder than if you were applying for an in-house position, with firms such as Simmons & Simmons known for asking all prospective consultants to undergo a series of tests to determine an applicants’ ability to cope with the contracting model.
The freelance economy has been growing in recent years and is set to continue doing so for some time to come. In their report entitled The Future of Work, PwC found that half of all UK employers anticipate that as many as 1 in 5 of their workforce will be employed this way by 2020, with the REC going a step further to suggest this figure could be as high as 1 in 3 by 2021.
The question lawyers need to ask themselves is whether life as a freelancer is right for them and their future career?