On 17th January 2023, the industry regulator, the Bar Standards Board decided to hand down an order imposing a ban on a barrister preventing him from continuing to practise after evidence emerged
A Changing Legal Landscape: Why Aspiring Lawyers Should Keep Tabs on Agile Working Practices and the Legal Gig Economy
The Gig Economy: An Increasingly Popular Working Pattern
In essence, the gig economy is a working pattern for self-employed individuals who pick up ‘gigs’, or a string of one-off or short-term work, and then receive payment for their work.
These ‘gig’ transactions are generally undertaken through a digital cloud-based platform (think Uber, Food Panda and Deliveroo), with the individual having control over their own scheduling with the ability to work remotely if need be.
As to how the gig economy fits in the legal industry as it stands, it is important to observe one major trend law firms are now paying very close attention to: agile working.
A Key Future Legal Trend: Agile Working
Agile working is a mode or medium of working that empowers lawyers to work with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It is attractive for legal businesses and staff alike. For lawyers, agile working means increased freedom from timesheets and target billable hours and for businesses, this means reduction of very expensive overheads. This is a win-win because it pushes law firms to adopt innovative business practices and leading-edge technology that delivers better value for clients, whilst boosting productivity and overall happiness for their staff.
This shift towards flexible lawyering is largely a reflection of a new generation of lawyers with certain understandings regarding the way they’d like to work and live in the 21st century. Which, according to George Bisnought (MD at platform law firm, Excello Law), have “increasingly less compatible with traditional working patterns”. A growing cohort of law firms have already taken steps towards agile working. Dentons staff, for instance, (ranging from UK partners, associates and legal executives) can work from home one day a week, on an informal basis. Clifford Chance goes further and encourages partners to work from home when possible.
It is important to mention a major contributing factor towards the popularity of agile working is due to shifting commercial expectations the delivery of legal advice/services should be process-driven, scalable and cost-transparent. For instance, Lawyers on Demand (“LOD”, a global legal resourcing provider) contracts out legal manpower on a project-by-project basis as in-house support to corporate clients (including UBS, Gucci and Vodafone). Other like Red Bar Law offer barrister-led fixed fees at a cheaper price, making their savings through keeping a lean team with free-lancers working from home to supplement extra manpower at busy times. In response, law firms like Hogan Lovells and Allen & Overy have adopted similar cost-cutting strategies by keeping leaner teams (with agile working policies in place), whilst the rest is contracted out by legal resourcing services like Cognia Law or Elevate.
In line with these new commercial expectations, law firms increasingly have to compete with NewLaw/alternative legal providers who can offer their lawyers flexible schedules and non-traditional, stress-free working environments. On this, Alex McPherson, co-founder at Ignition Law stress agile working extends to factors like ‘lighting, temperature, décor, type of laptop’ their staff use as being central elements to boosting productivity, and ensuring eventual success of the firm.
How does the Gig Economy fit in this picture?
It is important to stress that agile working is not just limited to working flexibly for law firms or NewLaw/alternative legal providers. Agile working includes lawyers working on a free-lance basis.
One popular means to do so is through “platform law firms”. Platform law firms are virtual law firms that allow lawyers to work remotely using shared services like IT, marketing and compliance provided by a central hub. Having lawyers work remotely means platform law firms often have fewer overhead costs, and therefore these lawyers can keep a higher percentage of the fees they charge. Though working this way comes with the uncertainty of being self-employed (not to mention reduced employment rights), Hazlewood’s (an accounting firm) figures show lawyers working on a free-lance basis have risen 29% or 1,305 in 2018, up from 803 in 2017.
On this, Jon Cartwright (partner at Hazlewoods) says “the continued growth of platform law firms…is also part of broader trend amongst lawyers to be more entrepreneurial, to strike out on their own. Some because they want to do things their way, some because they feel big law firms involve too much politics and others because they feel they are not getting enough out of the fees they earn.”
How will this affect my career as an Aspiring Lawyer?
For aspiring lawyers, these new developments in agile working – particularly the idea of distance working and business relationships made remotely – should be on your radar. As more and more law firms are accepting the utilization of technology to implement flexible workplace policies, students and aspiring lawyers should be prepared to envision once they qualify, working remotely or flexibly is an option and even an encouraged workplace practice.
With this in mind, the key takeaway from this article is to be aware of how agile working practices are evolving in the legal industry – it will change how lawyering is done in the very near future!