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Step down the freelance path

Step down the freelance path


For lawyers wanting to step away from the traditional firm structure, freelance work offers greater flexibility and the opportunity to develop new skills, says Matthew Kay

The working world looks so different now compared to 20, ten, or even five years ago. The exponential rise of technology is partly responsible. Now it is possible to check your emails halfway up Snowdon or on a remote beach. Developments like the cloud mean your office could be a cottage in St Ives or an apartment in Barcelona.

It’s an exciting time, and the picture is changing everyday – open a newspaper and you’re likely to see stories about artificial intelligence infiltrating offices and taking over tasks usually completed by human minds.

Coupled with this rapidly changing technology, there is social change – more people want a healthy work-life balance and time to devote to passions outside work. Indeed, a recent survey from Timewise showed that 770,000 individuals earning over £40,000 are working part time – a rise of 5.7 per cent in the past year. It’s likely this growth trajectory will continue.

But what does all this innovation mean for the legal sector and how lawyers work? Law is often seen as a traditional profession, with long hours and very busy schedules. However, there is a drive within the profession to modernise and offer alternative ways of working. The millennials now entering the profession are considering different career paths – the traditional route to partnership is now no longer the only way. This new generation, in addition to putting an emphasis on work-life balance, also values creative and meaningful work like no other generation. Workplaces must adapt to these new employee motivators.

For lawyers, there are more and more options available to facilitate flexible working. Some firms are offering working from home, sabbaticals, and secondments. Growing in popularity is also another option – contract lawyering. Through a legal resourcing hub such as Vario, freelance lawyers are offered assignments for a variety of clients. These assignments range in length from six to 18 months and usually include an element of homeworking, as well as hot-desking at the client’s offices.

There are a number of clear benefits to this type of working – it puts the lawyer in charge of the sort of hours they want to work, making controlling the work-life balance easier, and it also gives lawyers a greater variety of work, which we found in a recent survey was the number-one driver for freelance lawyers. Moving from one job to another gives freelance lawyers greater opportunities to learn new skills, meet new people, and work in different sectors.

Interestingly, we’ve also seen that the freelance path is not just trodden by experienced lawyers. Increasingly we are seeing the millennials choosing to work in this way. Many prefer it for the valuable in-house experience it gives them, but also because it can help fund their passion projects – whether this is a business on the side or world travel.

Many lawyers will be starting this year off wanting to make a change to their lives, using their legal skills but stepping away from the 60-hour working week. Understandably, making this leap can be hard. Here are a few tips to help ensure the transition to a new working life isn’t a leap into the unknown:

  • Make a plan: Think about what you want from your work-life balance and evaluate what your key drivers are – do you want more time to spend with your family or on cultivating your entrepreneurial ideas? Or is it more about moving away from a traditional law firm structure, working more flexibly and on a greater variety of projects? Research the legal hubs available: This type of working doesn’t suit everyone and you will want to pick a hub that will give you the type of work you want, along with the support you need day to day.

  • Consider your skills, including those ‘soft’ ones: Like any freelance career, legal freelancing requires individuals to be more of a ‘get up and go’ type of personality. Emotional intelligence, always an important trait in the legal profession, becomes more valuable than ever. With a greater variety of work come new challenges and new personalities – being confident, adaptable, and able to listen is important. We value personality fit so much we even conduct personality tests to ensure the right lawyer and client are matched.

This year is an exciting one for the legal profession – we’ll see more innovation and technology will continue to impact how legal jobs are done. Going freelance is one of the biggest trends of the next year, and with the right preparation it can be one of the most rewarding career changes for individuals.

Matthew Kay is director of Vario at Pinsent Masons