Consultant Lawyers Vs. Employees: The Case Against the Common Misconception
Last year, the SRA introduced new regulations that would enable Solicitors to work freelance or outside of the traditional regulated legal entity models.
A welcome overhaul of the outmoded rules, the new regulations now allow for Solicitors to advise on non-reserved matters on an unregulated basis without the need for professional indemnity insurance, or through a traditional regulated practice carrying £3 million of professional indemnity insurance for matters deemed to be “reserved Matters” by the SRA Finally, lawyers working in this way can use the word ‘Solicitor’ as their job title - something the former regulations ruled against.
Nevertheless, misconceptions around consultant lawyers and the firms who use them persist.
As a firm who deliberately hired consultant lawyers from day one as a means of keeping our fees down without sacrificing quality of service, we have always banged the drum for flexible employment. In fact, it’s because we chose to work with qualified Solicitors, Barristers ad overseas Attorneys in the capacity of “consultant lawyers” that clients have been able to benefit from high quality advice at low hourly rates.
Yet, we still get asked on a regular basis why our lawyers aren’t employees of the business.
It’s understandable to a certain degree. After all, law firms have traditionally always hired legal professionals as employees of the company.
That said, it’s not as if law firms have developed a glowing reputation on the employment front.
When we think of lawyers within traditional practices, we think of employees working late, burning the candle at both ends with the promise of one day making partner their sole motivation. We think of lawyers wracked with stress over targets for billable hours, frequently missing family moments in order to be deemed valuable by employers who measure performance by time rather than quality.
All the while, the gig economy has transformed the world of work as we know it; self-employment is surging in popularity and service businesses spanning the sectors are discovering the benefits of drafting in freelance support for periods of peak demand.
Why, then, does the idea of working with consultant lawyers as opposed to law firm employees still raise concerns?
In most cases, it comes down to a simple misconception: the idea that a firm who employs their team in a traditional way is somehow better from a client’s perspective.
However, the moment you start to question why you would prefer to work with a firm hiring employees, you begin to unravel the fallacy.
From the lawyer’s perspective, the ability to exercise control over the type of clients you work with and the hours in which you work are two main drivers to operate outside of the traditional employment framework. When you reach a certain level of experience in your profession, these are two elements you naturally begin to crave – unfortunately, they are rarely attainable when working as an employee of a law firm.
“But doesn’t that make you more of a brokerage, then?” I hear you ask.
Unlike other distributed practices who process business brought in by its consultants, we actively market to and bring in workload from an established and fast-growing, global client-base. Our consultants transact under the name of 360 Business Law, our unregulated practice or 360 Law Services, our SRA regulated practice, while receiving the benefit state of the art IT, case and time management, accounting support, full administrative support and a caseload that is generated in the main by our company without them leaving the comfort of their armchair. We even provide professional indemnity insurance in the SRA regulated practice.
If salary was the sole factor keeping them from consultant life, our lawyers now benefit from a realistic hourly rate or one of the highest fee share arrangements provided by any distributed legal practice in the UK. Perhaps it’s different in other practices, but our consultants refer to their decision to work with us as one of the best moves they made in their professional careers.
From the firm’s perspective, working with consultants enables controlled growth and simply makes good business sense. Here’s why:
1. If a consultant’s performance begins to drop and clients are dissatisfied with their level of service, the firm won’t have to keep them on payroll for an extended period of time. Instead of keeping an underperforming lawyer on our books and risking an exodus of unhappy clients, we can quickly move the case to another equally qualified and capable lawyer to turn things around and resume our exceptional quality of support.
2. Should the volume of work dip, the firm doesn’t have to keep paying an employee salary whist they are on the bench twiddling their thumbs. Just as businesses call upon contractors to support during times of peak demand or to oversee the delivery of particular projects, a firm working with consultants can assign their lawyers with work as and when it comes in.
This doesn’t prevent them from finding work from other sources, either, meaning their earnings aren’t capped by the firm’s revenue – it’s a win-win relationship.
3. Working with consultant lawyers as opposed to employees can enable a virtual firm to quickly extend their reach worldwide, as we have in now over 40 countries, providing our clients with a complete services wherever they trade and without the hassle of contracting with and administrating work using multiple law firms .
4. The simple truth of working as a consultant is that the effort you put in and the reputation you earn define your earning potential. As it happens, that’s a pretty big motivation for delivering an excellent client-service. From a law firm’s perspective, a lawyer who is wholeheartedly committed to bringing their best to work every day is a huge advantage.
So, why the negative connotations?
Clients seem to perceive that employed lawyers will somehow work harder and more professionally than lawyers who operate as freelance consultants, when in reality the opposite is true. If an employee knows that he will be paid come what may there is less of an incentive for him to work productively!
Our view is the opposite, consultant lawyers are professionals that live and die on their reputation. However they work, regulated or unregulated, they need to keep that reputation to survive and earn an income. The safety blanket of employment and the ability to take their foot of the accelerator is simply not available to them.
Another downside seems to stem from the perceived loss of secure employment received by consultants. But what is security if not a steady flow of work in the consultants specialist area with all of their costs covered, coupled with a distinctly better work-life balance, and sense of freedom and control?
In a competitive, candidate-led market, we know that talented lawyers with over five years post-qualification experience won’t have trouble finding employment should they seek it.
They choose to work for us not only because of the income and the lifestyle, but in many cases, because they want to be part of a legal practice that is moving in the right direction and providing clients with a better services at lower rates that con only be achieved by a company controlling overhead cost.
For a client seeking quality legal advice for a realistic cost, it should be a no-brainer.
By working with a virtual firm who contracts consultant lawyers, you’ll get:
Access to high-caliber legal support wherever you are in the world
Fees that are considerably lower than the average high-street firm
Costs that don’t factor in the overheads associated with the traditional model
If you’re still set on working with a firm who hires employees and not consultants, we want to know why. at firstname.lastname@example.org , leave a comment below or give us a call on 0333 772 0826