What if I said you could grow revenue and profits without adding a single dollar to fixed costs? Or that you could scale up your practice with new skills or resources in just a few days? 

You’d tell me that I’m dreaming. 

Well, I would be if I inhabited the world of traditional law firms, where the only options to address rising demand are to hire more employees (a.k.a. add to fixed costs) or refer the work to another firm (a.k.a. give work away). 

Luckily for you and me, we don’t live in that world anymore. Instead, we’re in a new era of flexible resourcing.

Flexible resourcing – or contract lawyering – has been around for a while now. However, while it traditionally focused on linking lawyers to in-house legal teams, the larger firms who provided this service quickly realised the benefits of flexible lawyering for themselves. As a result, large firms using flexible lawyers has been one of the best-kept secrets in law! 

Throughout all of this, SME and national firms have neglected to use this method. Until now. Cue the new generation of flexible lawyer providers, offering the benefit of contract lawyers to SME firms looking to grow in an innovative and agile way.

Here are the top five reasons that SME law firms use contract lawyers.

  1. They love seeing variable costs finally meet variable demand! One of the most significant issues for all law firms is balancing client demand’s variable ‘peaks and troughs’ with the consistent fixed costs of people, premises and PI. Flexible lawyering enables firms to engage additional lawyers when demand is high without committing to working with them when demand subsides. In doing so, they only incur a cost when they’re also generating revenue.
  2. They can stop turning work away. We’ve all heard this story many times. Law firm gets the dream mandate but doesn’t have the skills or resources required, which means they turn it away. Turning work away constrains the firm’s growth; it also fails to capitalise on hard-won client relationships. Now, a growing cohort of law firms are looking at this situation differently, engaging contract lawyers to help them resource work rather than refer it to competitors. 
  3. They can develop new services and solutions with little risk. Contract lawyers aren’t just there for a crisis! Many law firms are thinking more strategically about flexible resourcing, and some are using contract lawyers to trial or launch new service lines. Think about it: instead of committing to hiring a team of people to provide a new service, these firms can test the proposition without adding any fixed cost to the bottom line by engaging contract lawyers to do the work. If the service doesn’t fly, there’s little harm done if it takes off; happy days!
  4. Important but not urgent things get done. While we’re on the subject of thinking strategically, we’re seeing an increasing number of firms hiring contract lawyers to undertake business improvement projects. You know the kind of things: important but not urgent work that gets left at the bottom of the pile in favour of client matters when allocated to a lawyer within the firm. Updating precedents. Automating documents. Documenting workflows. The silent stuff that increases productivity and profitability long-term. 
  5. They’re serious about moving well-being from talk to action. All of the wellbeing initiatives in the world are worth little if associates have to work long hours to keep on top of their workload. Recently, there has been considerable push-back on firms to not just talk about wellbeing but to put in place actions that support it. With long hours being cited as one of the most common causes of lawyer mental health issues, enlightened and compassionate firms are taking steps to do something about it. They are engaging contract lawyers to help with workloads that would previously have been allocated to staff, allowing their people to live more balanced and healthy lives.

Flexible resourcing is not just for in-house legal teams or large firms. Small, medium and national firms realise the benefits too and, as a result, are transforming into more responsive, agile and humane legal businesses.

About the Author

Katherine Thomas is CEO of Free Range Lawyers, which helps law firms grow in a low-risk way by providing flexible, temporary resources to meet peaks of demand. Work is done remotely, meaning assignments start quickly, with minimal fuss. See www.freerangelawyers.com for more.