Connor Simms - Principle Consultant, DMJ Recruitment
While in general I think we would all agree that the last two years of Covid life have been a sprawling mess of uncertainty, anxiety, financial strife, familial strains and, at times, abject boredom, there have at least been some slithers of silver linings in amongst the doom and gloom. The ‘I’m not a cat’ video, the discovery that we can save half our week’s wages by actually making our own sourdough and, last but not least, the revelation of flexible working.
An overhaul of the way we work has long been overdue. The pandemic shone a light on what a lot of us already knew – that the traditional 9 to 5 (and beyond) in the office five days a week will not increase productivity for many in the modern world. When you factor in things like long commutes, childcare and fitting in time for hobbies and exercise, being tied to an office desk all day every day just isn’t doing it for the majority of people anymore.
Now that remote working has become the norm, many people, including an increasing number of lawyers, are going one step further and turning to the freelance life.
Being a freelancer takes the flexibility of remote working to the next level – you have an even greater degree of control over when and how you work and, crucially, for whom.
Historically, freelance work in the legal profession was mainly reserved for those practitioners winding down their careers by acting in a consultancy capacity to a select number of firms. But now lawyers of all ages want in on the action.
One of the advantages of being a freelance lawyer is that it opens you up to variety. If you’re newly qualified, it can be advantageous to grow your knowledge and experience by dipping in and out of different sectors on a project-by-project basis. As Dan Kayne of ‘The O Shaped Lawyer’ has so insightfully explained, these roles can give you the intangibles that are so key as a senior lawyer. Furthermore, for those with a decade of qualified experience, who are finding that their priorities have shifted and now perhaps want to give more time to family life, the independence and control that comes from switching to freelancing can be an enticing option.
Of course, being a freelance lawyer has its drawbacks, with the biggest probably being the lack of stability. Your salary is based solely on the hours you can actually bill for, and there’s no guarantee that your next case will fall into your lap, so you need to be particularly proactive about finding work. You are your own business, and you are responsible for all the stress and admin that comes with it. And of course, working as a freelance lawyer means you forego the career progression and perks that come with rising up the ranks of a prestigious law firm.
But for some, ambitions and priorities have changed, and making Partner is not the Holy Grail it once was. I have heard from some young lawyers that they place much more value on having a greater degree of control over their working life and a work-life balance that won’t be a detriment to their mental health over any desire to climb to the upper echelons of a top law firm.
Working as a freelance lawyer certainly isn’t right for everyone. But it is refreshing to see our industry shaking things up a bit, and perhaps shedding a little of that stuffy, set-in-its-ways reputation that it has been carrying around for so long.