The Rise and Rise of the Freelance Attorney
As has been predicted by several influential people and thought leaders, and as reported by several media outlets, many jobs that people will be doing in 20 years time do not currently exist today. Many of these job titles don’t have a name yet and the industries that they will exist in, haven’t even been created as at today.
Want an example? Think of the “Sharing Economy” of which Uber, AirBnB and the likes belong to. While this economy or industry can more generally be regarded as belonging to the “peer-to-peer” industry, which has been around for a bit longer than the previously mentioned companies, the emergence of these companies and all they brought with them have revolutionised the industry in ways that their predecessors like LimeWire, Pirate Bay and the likes could never have dreamed of doing
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Just as in practically all professions, change has come, and continues to come to the legal profession. From the various technological advancements, to the rise of the practice of alternative dispute resolution and so much more.
The one change that is the subject of this discussion is the rise of the “freelancer attorney,” also often referred to as a “contract attorney.”
One characteristic of the legal profession of ‘old’ is the predominance of large law firms employing several dozen lawyers, paralegals and other legal and non-legal professionals. Sometimes referred to as ‘BigLaw,’ often because of the size of the company, these large law firms would often have several ‘departments’ staffed by specialist attorneys like business lawyers litigation lawyer, family attorneys, and much more. As well have laving very deep pockets and a huge and rich clientele list.
On the flip side of the coin are much smaller law firms, or ‘SmallLaw,’ that, while not as large as ‘Biglaw’ firms, still operated pretty much in the same structured manner, without having the large legal personnel, deep pockets and a large client list.
Nowadays, a lot has changed in the way in which many law firms are structured and run. The freelance lawyer or contract attorney for one, as the name suggests, is someone who might not even necessarily belong to any “recognized” law firm, whether BigLaw or SmallLaw. He or she might not even necessarily have a “formal” office as lawyers or law firms are known to have, but can instead work from home full time, or be constantly on the road.
The one change which was previously spoken about, that has had the most profound impact on the legal profession, and enables these freelance or contract attorneys to have the freedom to work whenever and wherever they chose to, is none other than the advancements in ICT and technology in general.
From being able to rent a virtual office, oftentimes anywhere in the world, complete with all the functions that a regular office might have, such as a fully functional PBX system, secretarial services, and more. To the rise and pervasiveness of search engines and social media that the average person can hardly live without these days, both of which gives rise to, and allows these contract attorneys to advertise their services and reach potential clients that they might never have dreamed of being able to reach. To the emergence of lawyer directories like Avvo, Justia and even sites like Yelp.com, all of which provide additional resources that a freelance attorney might use to find clients and grow their business.
The one lesson that both large and small law firms should take away from the above is that the days of feeling secure in the fact that no one can come and take away business from them is over. One or ten freelance attorneys might not pose a threat to such law firms and their businesses, but several tens or even hundreds of thousands of such freelancers means there are that many number of attorneys reaching out to the same potential, and often existing clients, and in many cases offering a much lower and friendlier billing option that other SmallLaw and BigLaw firms are known to offer. In addition to several other value added services that they can come up with just to make their services much more attractive to the client than other established firms.
Two Vital Lessons for Future Freelance Attorneys
So what are the lessons that future potential freelance attorneys can take away from the above discussion? There are two such points or lessons that can be identified.
- You really don’t need anyone to give you a job when you can create your own job or business and livelihood. With the global downturn in economic activities affecting most economies, and the consequent stagnation or flatlining in the creation of new jobs, it is perhaps not always the best idea for new or baby lawyers to spend all their time sending out CV’s when they can look into the freelance option, and, if they work hard enough at it, can turn it into a full time income generating business. Wherein they might not even need to find that job anymore, but can instead grow that freelance business in leaps and bounds that in due time they will upgrade their freelance practice to a SmallLaw law firm.
- You have to be quite aggressive in your freelance activities. Being a contract attorney is not easy. As is the case with any freelancer in any niche or industry, you will likely be competing with not only several thousands or tens of thousands of other freelancers, but also with several thousands of well established large and smaller law firms who have been around for many years, or even decades.
So you are going to have to dig very deep and determine what you can do to differentiate yourself from the next contract attorney or law firm. From being very strategic with your marketing, to offering pro-bono legal services, to publishing very valuable and informative legal articles that answers questions or otherwise provides information that potential clients might be looking for and many more such things that you can do to help differentiate yourself and grow your freelance practice.
Other things you might want to do to try and ‘limit’ the competition is to offer your legal services at very a local level, instead of possibly spreading yourself thin by going far and wide to offer these legal services, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Then ultimately, you should try and be the best attorney you can be.