Love your life: achieving work/life balance as a consultant
After 20 years as a partner in a large regional firm, Linda Lamb decided to set up on her own as a specialist family lawyer. She shares some of her thoughts about being self-employed
The concept of being a self-employed consultant sounds attractive but for many it is tinged with anxiety.
Although there is a growing trend for lawyers to work remotely – figures from Hazlewoods released before Christmas found that 1,000 lawyers in the UK are embracing the gig economy – it can still feel like a bold move for some lawyers.
Although some may crave the independence and freedom that comes with going freelance, others fear they will no longer have the steady stream of good quality work that comes with being part of a firm.
Being a sole practitioner means that you have the full responsibility for setting up and running your law practice.
This includes responsibility for registration; taxation, compliance; technology, supplies; billing; fee recovery and much more. This isn’t for those who can’t fully commit.
Yet at the same time, there has never been so much support in the legal industry to become self-employed. Some law firms have opened up contract lawyering arms of their business – for example Pinsent Masons’ Vario.
This is coupled with clients and businesses seeking contract lawyers to work for them on a temporary basis.
Being self-employed gives you the opportunity to choose how / where / when and who you want to work for, giving you more autonomy to do the work you relish under the work / life balance you want.
In the last couple of years there has been a lot written about how to have a work/ life balance but not so much about how to achieve this.
Becoming a self-employed family lawyer is not for the faint-hearted and if you truly want a simpler life this is not necessarily the option for your career unless you choose carefully which businesses to work with.
Below I have detailed the benefits and practical considerations on how to work successfully as a self-employed family law consultant and find the elusive work/life balance that suits you.
Your life - You need to consider how a change will suit your personal life. It could be that you have young children and want to be able to take them to and from school.
This is often difficult in a traditional firm where you are expected to be at the office for 9am and finish at the earliest 5pm.
There are also the sports days, concerts and other events which you cannot attend without taking holiday leave.
Alternatively, you are just fed up of the rigid structures in a traditional firm where you live month to month with a rigid billing target and responsibility for other managerial tasks.
As a family consultant you can choose the number of hoursand days that you wish to work, your diary is your own. Although this will of course be balanced with how much you wish or need to earn.
How to obtain the work – Experienced family lawyers with a referral network and satisfied clients will already have a regular source of work.
You may find that leaving a multidisciplinary firm for a business that focuses only on family law will bring referrals from firms that do not provide family law or who would not refer because they would be concerned that you would keep their special commercial client.
As a self-employed lawyer in a family law practise you are now not a threat. In the past law firms would have to refer to the other departments in their firm but now they can refer elsewhere. This creates another source of referrals for self-employed lawyers.
Choose carefully who you work with – There is an increasing number of businesses that are seeking to work with self-employed consultants.
You need to make sure that you choose to work with businesses that are a good fit for you.
When considering whether to work with these companies make sure to review the terms and conditions to check that your contract is fair, leaving you with the flexibility that you want while giving you a good share of the income with appropriate support for you.
Recent research has identified that 1,035 lawyers work for ‘platform’ firmsx. This is still a small percentage of practising solicitors.
Things could change when the new SRA Standards and Regulations come into force, allowing solicitors to practise from unregulated firms. The move was not supported by the Law Society.
The concern is that this will reduce the quality of the services being provided. Consultants should choose carefully when considering the businesses that they wish to work with.
Income – As an employee you waited for the next pay rise. As a partner or director you were disappointed by your share.
Possibly you had a bonus scheme and would receive something extra. Your income would be dependent on the financial viability of the firm where you were working no matter how hard you worked.
You would see others not working as hard or efficiently as you and receiving the same income.
As a consultant you will see a direct benefit with you receiving a greater share of what is billed and paid. This provides you with a direct link to your effort and greater satisfaction.
Billing and credit control – If you work with an efficient business then you need not be concerned about the monthly billing.
Each month all your work should be billed for you, with you knowing at any point exactly what you will receive when the bills are paid.
There’s also no need to worry about getting payment of your bills when you are working with a business.
They should take responsibility for the following up of the bills with the reminders for payment. You can then just focus on the work that you enjoy.
Support – Consider the support that you will need. This may be a small amount of practical support with opening files; accountancy advice for you on the best business structure and tax.
Also check out the support that the business you are working with will provide. This could include some training or mentoring.
Networks – You have the freedom to choose the networks that you want to join.
This could be special interest groups; lunch clubs or other networking groups to help establish you as a self-employed practitioner and grow your client or referral base. The choice is yours, you control your diary.
Venues for meetings – Instead of having the rigidity of a fixed office you now have the flexibility of meeting clients in venues that are more convenient for your clients.
There are many attractive venues that provide the ideal discreet meeting rooms which will make your clients feel comfortable when meeting with you.
These often provide excellent service, making your clients feel supported from the moment they arrive to meet you.
Go paperless – If you have not worked in a paperless office you have missed out on a really efficient way to work.
If you can adopt this way of working as a consultant it will transform the way that you work. There are no heavy files to carry around.
Every document is saved electronically taking away the risk of losing any papers or others easily reading confidential papers.
You can access your total files on your PC; laptop; tablet and phone. If you decide that you will mainly work from home you will not need large filing cabinets to store your files and court bundles.
You are also well placed for the future with developments such as the use of electronic bundles just around the corner.
Supervision – This has always been a requirement for mediators. Personal support is beneficial for all areas of family law practice.
Faith in your ability – If you’ve read the practical considerations above and believe that the flexibility of working as a self-employed consultant would suit your life, remember to always have faith in yourself.
Going out on your own can be nerve-racking but incredibly fulfilling. And remember if you really want to work in a different way you will be successful.
As a successful family lawyer you should have faith in yourself.
Linda Lamb is a solicitors and director of LSL Family Law lslfamilylaw.co.uk