How Legal Contractors are Supporting Law Firms and In-House Legal Teams
The economic climate has shifted unpredictably in recent months—first law firms and legal teams saw an increase in client growth and then COVID-19 brought some teams to an abrupt drop in work. Legal teams across the country are becoming more innovative in their approach to staff for those changes in workflow. In the last year, a rising number of law firms and legal departments have begun to show preference for “borrowing” the talent of attorneys and legal support staff —as in, hiring them for a short-term, contract stint—rather than assuming the risks and expenses that come from investing in new, permanent headcount for their firms or in-house departments.
Tailoring your team to meet your budget
The most compelling reason to consider bringing on a legal contractor or two is to keep your costs low while maximizing your teams’ output. In the case of in-house teams, you are the go-to for everything from employment law to mergers and acquisitions and contracts, and the variability in your work sometimes requires an added layer of expertise. Maybe your company has a discrete project, such as, supporting an influx of commercial contracts or is working through a one-off property acquisition. Rather than putting pressure on your existing team’s know-how and already busy workload or engaging outside counsel, consider the value you could realize buy hiring a contract attorney with the expertise you need. With this tailored approach, teams can hedge against the fluidity of demands before over committing on full-time resources.
A growing number of law firms are acknowledging the need to meet their clients’ needs and evaluating how legal services are delivered. Firms of all sizes are flexing their workforce to meet their clients’ demands with a roster of legal contractors. The demand for value-based, budget-conscious legal services is on the rise as more and more corporate clients are requesting efficiencies and budgeted processes for the delivery of legal services. Law firms have had to adapt to the needs of their clients in creative ways, and keeping overhead low with a bench of contractors who can slot in at the right time and for the right clients is more and more attractive to firms who want to continue to grow without taking on new operating costs.
And while their business models are different, in-house teams face similar pressure to balance their budgets and capitalize on efficiencies. Both the American Bar Association and Association of Corporate Counsel have dedicated resources to legal operations over the past several years. The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) was founded in 2016 as the legal operations profession became more recognized offering membership, collaboration and learning. Regardless of the kind of law you practice, the drive to improve process and reduce cost seems to be universal.
Gaining access to a highly talented pool of attorneys
You’ve probably seen the statistics on the gig economy. More than 36% of workers consider themselves a part of the gig economy (holding either full- or part-time freelance or contract roles) and almost 30% rely on contract work as their primary source of income. In the coming decade, that number is projected to continue to climb. And with the rise of contract employment, even some elite legal minds have stepped away from their top Amlaw jobs in favor of more flexibility. From working parents and millennials to semi-retired, former firm partners, there’s a growing talent pool of well-pedigreed attorneys who prefer contract work to full-time commitments.
Limiting the risk as you grow
The guesswork for when to grow your headcount with more full-time employees has gotten more precarious without a clearer picture of the landscape ahead, and the law is no exception. Sometimes a surge in new clients or work has you opening a new role, and then a long-term client sees a change in leadership and there’s a reduction in work. Or you staff up for a big case and then the case ends.
If you’re not ready to carry the new expenses that come from adding a new full-time employee or you’re not sure what the future holds for your client list or caseload, growing your team with temporary legal contractors lets you stress test your firm’s growth without taking on a long-term commitment. You may find that over time, you’re ready for the operational growth you’ve been testing or that it’s better to wait before adding that new full-time attorney/legal resource.
As for in-house legal teams, the corporate process of getting headcount approved can be arduous and lengthy. So leaning on your allotted annual budget to test the waters with a contract attorney before you go to bat for a permanent one will help you make a clear business case farther down the road.