By Matthew Kay
Lawyers in private practice have frequently been known to work upwards of 60-80 hours per week. Many have been driven by the goal of becoming a partner in a law firm with the pay and prestige that comes with it. Conversely, a reduced or flexible schedule in law has traditionally been seen to be inconsistent with the achievement of a successful legal career.1
But because of a variety of factors including ease of remote work, the desire by the general counsel to achieve cost-predictability from outside legal counsel, and a demand from lawyers themselves to work more flexibly, things have changed. Now, more lawyers, including many in the Asia-Pacific region, are opting for flexible hours and remote work as a career choice.
Jarred Hardman founder of Australia’s Crowd & Co placed the issue in context for legal services when he told Australasian Lawyer 2: “Within the legal community, the concept of being a contract lawyer is actually a chosen career path. “You start to see a really strong trend that this is permanent and an accepted way of being a lawyer. More and more people are looking for flexibility,” he said. “You’ve got a new era of lawyers who are now looking at their options.”
Flexible working in high demand, particularly among Millennials
Statistics point to a significant increase in demand for flexible working options. According to a report by Indeed.com, job searches for flexible work increased by 58% between 2014 and 2016 3. And HR technologist magazine has identified flexibility as one of the key changing workplace trends of 2017 4.
A variety of reports reflect how Millennials want work-life balance and are unwilling to sacrifice their personal lives for career advancement. A 2017 CWB Multigenerational Impacts on the Workplace Report 5 shows millennials are inspired by automation, virtual collaboration and the gig economy, and prefer more control over their careers, including not being tied to one employer for lengthy periods. And a report by Deloitte, cited by the Financial Times, details how “millennials are more interested in people than in money, prefer collaborative working structures and value being able to work irregular hours as it suits them.” 6
Millennial lawyers “tired of the 24/7 work culture”
As the Financial Times has detailed: “Many millennial lawyers are tired of the 24/7 work culture and are inspired by the gig economy”. Because of these preferences they see their “income may be more sporadic but earning it will not involve being tied to a desk during fixed hours. Millennials in the law are rebelling” the FT reports, “to demand a better work-life balance— and influencing those more senior to them too.”
I’ve written before about the global gig economy for lawyers, where I cited a 2013 survey conducted by PwC, the University of Southern California and London Business School which found that: “businesses that want to attract and engage the next generation of workers have to remember that 74% of them want flexible work schedules and 88% prefer a collaborative work culture”. Across the world, lawyers are starting to wake up to the fact that they don’t have to do the 9-5 and can introduce more flexibility and variety into their work life, as I explained in that article. 7
Here at Vario, we help cultivate lawyers from diverse backgrounds, including those at the beginning of their careers. For example, Rose, who joined the Vario community early on in her career says she “really enjoyed” legal contracting because “it allowed me to pursue my other interests alongside my work.” She believes “it’s an advantage having never been on the ‘traditional’ path” because she’s “able to quickly adapt to new environments”. Doris has had an eclectic career in IT, management consulting and DJ’ing. And working as a freelancer has allowed her to make time for her passion. In addition to headlining DJ sets, Doris also enjoys finding time to help her local community through her work as a volunteer for a local charity. “It’s good for more junior level lawyers to sample other work cultures and ways of working with clients too”, she said. “I have more freelance friends than employed ones and they all make it work. Many of them work seasonally to allow them to make time for their passions.”
NewLaw expanding, diversifying in Asia
Alternative legal service providers and contract lawyering services have been operating in Asia for over a decade 8. They’ve gained increasing acceptance and popularity with the general counsel as client demands for their services has increased and the popularity of flexible working for lawyers as a career option has becoming more well known, accepted and desired.
NewLaw in the Asia-Pacific region has expanded and diversified both geographically as well as in service offers. Stand-alone NewLaw firms as well as those backed-up by the relationships and resources of global law firms now operate in jurisdictions including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
Vario was first established in the Asia-Pacific region in Australia in 2017 and since then has expanded into Singapore. As I’ve explained previously, there’s also “demand in other Asian markets” which will see Vario “expand…into other jurisdictions across Asia”. 9
NewLaw is a flexible alternative for young lawyers in Asia
I’ve also previously explained how the differences in work cultures impacts the legal services sector in Asia, and that while law firms in South Korea have a “well-established long hours culture”, the government has recently sought to address some of these issues by instituting a 52-hour cap to the working week. And in Singapore, flexible work arrangements are becoming the norm for younger workers. 10
I believe it’s very important to localise legal innovations 11 like a flexible contract into how lawyers work in their home jurisdictions — by considering all cultural perceptions when instituting flexible work.
And I see a huge appetite for these new, gig economy roles across all the jurisdictions where Vario operates. I believe this demand for gig-economy style lawyering has met the vehicle for its’ realization in NewLaw. As I see it, the future looks very bright for young lawyers wanting to work flexibly.
If you think freelancing could be the right move for your legal career, get in touch.