Is the Future of Law in Freelance?

The results of a two-year study recently released by London-based professional services network PricewaterhouseCoopers largely confirms what we’ve already long suspected: Young workers are increasingly choosing a life of freelance rather than tying themselves down to a singular career path.

Millennials in particular, the study writes, “do not believe that productivity should be measured by the number of hours worked at the office, but by the output of the work performed. They view work as a ‘thing’ and not a ‘place.'”

What’s more surprising, however, is just how far that mentality extends. Recent features from both Bloomberg and The Guardian indicate that the freelance bug has infested the world of corporate law.

Law firm consultant Debbie Epstein Henry admitted to Bloomberg that employing “temporary resources at law firms is nothing new” — though freelancers and temps used to be relegated to menial task work only. “What’s new is the attorneys being highly-credentialed lawyers who could get a permanent job at these law firms,” but still opt to freelance.

Web-based businesses like Axiom, Vario, and Lawyers on Demand offer a sort of match-making service between clients seeking legal services and freelance attorneys. Lawyers on Demand, which now hosts more than 600 lawyers, was launched in 2007 by Tom Hartley, who told The Guardian business has doubled over the past three years.

“Solicitors get to select jobs with clients that suit their skills and interests and fit with how they want to work,” he said. “This might be full time, on site at a law firm, working on a big deal — or a week at home reviewing commercial contracts.”

Hartley emphasized the shift in cultural perceptions as a key for growth. “The freelance path is now seen as attractive and aspirational,” he said. “It enables lawyers to work for big names like Google, Barclays and Vodafone on their own terms.”

On the other hand, some professionals remain skeptical about the long-term feasibility of freelance legal practice. Corporate lawyer Gemma Thomspon told the Guardian the idea is appealing but highly precarious. “It would be nice to have more flexible hours, but this usually means you don’t have the same job security,” she said.

The concern is a familiar echo to freelancers in any sector of industry, who often struggle to achieve the same financial milestones as their peers when it comes time for retirement savings, 401K plans, or even buying a home. Most mortgage lenders abide by traditional standards that prefer stable employment to job-bouncers.

But for many, the trade-off is worth the risk. “Some of our lawyers have other interests which take up their time — we have a corporate lawyer who takes the winter off to run his ski business, and a DJ based in Ibiza,” Hartley said. The world of law may soon take on a new face, thanks to the flexibility of freelance.

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