Alternative Careers for Lawyers

Contract Work: the "Freelancer"

The changing landscape of legal services now offers many an alternative basis for the engagement of legal professionals, such as the "virtual firm" and Alternative Business Structures.

Historically legal recruitment pages have consistently advertised fill-in and interim roles, e.g. fixed-term contracts for 6 months or a year for example, or with a pro-rata annual salary for less certain timescales, or even hourly rates.

Now, however, we have the extended concept of the "freelance" lawyer, by way of a permanent workstyle.

The option of freelancing has become so popular at the high corporate end, that a number of specialist headhunters and recruitment agencies target City lawyers with client followings.

The allure for the individual is leaving behind billing targets, the drudgery of partnership administration and traditional partnership models.

It works by the lawyer finding and affiliating with a law firm of suitable practice area, a law firm open to alternative styles of practice.

The firm provides the branding to make the client feel secure, and the lawyer will retain around three-quarters of the fee earning on his or her clients.

Any work that overflows to the firm's legal staff will produce a cut of say 25% to the freelance lawyer, and any work that the firm sees fit to refer in the other direction will earn the freelancer around 45% of time costs.

The lawyer potentially takes a greater share of profit, and with none of the administrative burden of a partnership role.

There is also the possibility for greater flexibility and control over your work life in general.

The firm to which they attach gives up no equity, no guaranteed salary, no joining fees, no recruitment fees (paid to any consultant who may be involved as a slice of fee earnings, say 5%), and they get to affiliate with high powered lawyers with extensive client networks.

So you will have to have a following to consider this an option and bear in mind the freelancer's traditional downside: the lack of any safety net in a downturn (no fixed salary, employees rights etc).

This leads into the "virtual" law firm, a conglomerate of freelance lawyers under one brand where the entire firm is populated by freelancers, who contribute a proportion of fees earned to minimal administration costs and overheads and to joint marketing initiatives.

Also see 'Contract Work: the "Virtual" Law Firm' and 'Legal Consulting'.