When in my career should I freelance?
By Ed Browne
Quality for Both Clients and Lawyers
The current popularity of freelancing in the legal field can be put down to a variety of reasons. Firstly, greater visibility and awareness. The traditional law firm is no longer the only option for lawyers due to advancements in technology, changing perceptions and attitudes in the workplace and with clients.
The expansion of this model within international law firms has also enhanced this career choice and Vario within Pinsent Masons is no different. The huge benefit of freelancing via a law firm such as Pinsent Masons is the support that it offers and access to its top quality clients.
As a freelancer you are an extension of the law firm and are treated as a PM lawyer along with all the benefits that brings you such as access to the firm’s vast client base, partners, teams, training, knowledge systems and even a dedicated Professional Development Lawyer. You will also benefit from the firm’s professional indemnity policy and coverage.
Many lawyers are realising that there is more to the profession than simply being office-bound, working long hours, unrealistic work loads and climbing the ever-increasing and demanding ladder to Partnership. Lawyers still want quality and variety of work but a better work-life balance and greater control and flexibility. Taking the plunge into the world of freelancing offers all this and more – it will allow greater freedom, career choice and control.
Lawyers can choose assignments that complement their professional skills and interests. As a result, they will enjoy a much more varied workload and more opportunities to develop new skills working for big-name clients.
Historically, the view has been that you need to have gained significant experience before you can contemplate a career as a legal freelancer. This has completely shifted over the past few years. Clients are seeking a greater variety and demand is continuing to grow for resource at a more junior level – from paralegal, junior and mid-level lawyer.
Therefore, a lawyer can now pursue a freelance career they want regardless of the level that they are entering this dynamic and growing market.
Is it for you?
That being said, it won’t be the correct choice for all. Legal knowledge and experience is clearly important as is having the confidence in your abilities. However, equally important are the softer skills required to thrive in this market. To be a successful and a valued resource to clients you will need to be flexible, resilient and adaptable to enjoy a long term freelance career.
Another huge consideration is cost and security. Clearly for any lawyer regardless of level, this will be a question mark but perhaps a bigger question at the more junior end of things (such as getting on the property ladder perhaps). There could be periods where the right assignment simply isn’t available. However, once you enter this market, lawyers quickly realise that this generally isn’t a major problem. The key is getting the right advice at the start given the experience you have to offer.
At Vario, we see a huge variety of why freelancing appeals and fits in with the individual’s career choices. It could be to avoid office politics, monotonous commutes and a lack of real variety in workloads. A large number of our lawyers spend time and focus on other areas which they enjoy. Some freelance to simply spend more time with their family. It is increasingly popular amongst lawyers while they start a family or to ease themselves back into work after maternity leave. Working flexibly allows returners to participate in a legal environment and gradually reacquaint themselves with high-quality work while also being able to spend time with their young family. Others to allow greater time to devote to other interests such as travel and business passions/ideas.
Here’s what one of our Varios (Lindsay MacDonald) has got to say with her new found flexibility and how becoming a Vario has changed her life: “I undertook my training contract at a global commercial law firm and accepted a Newly Qualified position at the same firm. I quickly realised that the conventional law firm requires employees to place the needs of the business before outside interests and as a result it can often be quite difficult to strike a good work/life balance. I decided to leave this role to go travelling for a year and upon my return to the UK was discussing my options with one of my peers who suggested that I look into freelancing. I was initially unaware that this was an option for someone at the junior end of the scale and so was pleased to discover that there were existing Varios who were of a similar level of qualification as me. I believe the freelancing model is the best option for me personally as it affords the flexibility to pursue outside interests such as coaching CrossFit and travelling while also allowing me to continue to practice as a lawyer.”
However, it must be said it might not be the right time or career option for all. It will completely depend on your own individual talents, motivations and drivers. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all and we come across a huge variation of what individuals are seeking. Freelancing isn’t without its potential pitfalls. Before committing to a freelance lifestyle it’s essential to consider all of these aspects and what are your long term career goals. There will always be lawyers who value the predictable income, greater stability and continuous workflow that come with working at a traditional law firm or in-house environment. If you have big plans to work your way through your travel bucket list or make that pipe-dream of setting up a small business a reality, you may struggle to do so while working in a full time role. A career as a freelance lawyer could be a rewarding alternative and allow you to pursue both your personal and professional goals. However, legal service delivery is changing. Going forward, it’s highly likely that more and more lawyers will choose to explore the freelance route via law firm backed platforms in-particular such as Vario and the flexible and varied career path it offers.