How Freelancers are Changing the Legal Industry

Written by: Solange Semedo
Published On: 22 Nov 2019

Freelance working is encroaching into every sector across the market today. There has been a large overall surge in people looking to go freelance, with a 31 per cent annual rise. But while major trades like IT support and consultancy remain reliant on freelance support, the real growth in this space could be in the legal sector over the course of the next few years. Up until this point in time, the growth has been in the creative industries and in the media. This suggests that more people are attempting to turn their hobbies and passions into businesses.

There are now 4.8 million self-employed workers in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics, which show that the number of self-employed workers has increased from 3.3 million in 2001 to 4.8 million in 2017. In London, the most popular freelance trades still include traditional private sector roles such as project managers, accountants and consultants.

London:

  1. Accountant
  2. Teacher/tutor
  3. Project manager
  4. Caterer (excluding mobile vans)
  5. Graphic designers

The legal profession is undergoing significant change – the way that people work; their priorities and other factors have meant that more lawyers are looking to work on a freelance basis – a business model which has been prevalent in other sectors, is now increasingly becoming a real and better alternative to private practice in a traditional law firm.

In fact, from the 25 November 2019 solicitors will be able to set themselves up to compete independently of law firms and other legal service providers. These are solicitors who will be: self-employed; cannot trade through an LLP or company; must trade in their own name; cannot employ anyone else (subject to a limited exception); cannot hold client funds or use a client account and must tell clients about their status. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) guidance issued in July 2019 outlines that freelance solicitors – what the SRA are currently calling SRA-regulated independent solicitors – can join chambers.

The SRA states that generally, freelance solicitors will only be able to provide reserved legal services as a solicitor through an entity that is authorised to do so.  However, solicitors who are de facto sole traders, can provide reserved legal services without being authorised as a recognised sole practice if they meet a number of conditions set out in regulation 10.2(b) of the Authorisation of Individuals Regulations.

Even before these rules come into effect, there are businesses out there, such as Lawyers On Demand, Axiom and Vario, that match interesting clients with solicitors who want more control over their caseload. The work is still of great quality and the individual solicitors don’t necessarily have to take a pay cut. Lawyers On Demand for instance, began in 2007 and now has more than 600 lawyers.

The benefits are for all: clients reduce their costs and potentially their in-house teams; firms do not have lawyers waiting for work to come in, and the individuals themselves can pick and choose when they take on work. Long nights pouring over documents are not over as such, but you can at least step out of the lifestyle once a task is completed. It’s a real break away from the traditional working model and provides greater flexibility too, which in turn disrupts the bad press the profession sometimes receives and enables lawyers to better balance their family commitments.

If you are a solicitor and are seriously considering the freelance route, think about the following:

  • Why are you entertaining the idea of freelance work? Considerations such as: the flexibility, you can charge consultancy fees (likely higher than if you were in private practice), eliminate the pressure of billable hours, choice in the work you take on, choice in the number of hours you work, not having to report to anybody, not having to burn the midnight oil. 
  • Who will be your target clients and do you already have a following?
  • Is there enough work in your area of expertise? 
  • Who do you know in the field, that can give you a helping hand? Include any assistance/guidance that you may be able to obtain from the SRA – particularly on ethics, money laundering etc.
  • How would you market your service offering and what fees would be associated with marketing? (You’ll need business cards, a website, advertising platforms)
  • Make a flexible business plan that you can alter if you find that one particular route is not working. Make sure that you are clear on what you are trying to achieve, your desired work/life balance, flexibility to work from home or limit commuting time, your desired income, whether you need funding to get you started (and if so, consider who to approach).

The above considerations are by no means exhaustive, but they are a good starting point. Freelance work will afford you with the type of freedom that you may have never experienced. It may sound scary, but it’s not. If you are a brilliant solicitor, you’re most likely to thrive rather than fall. If you do fall, you can get back up again, and worst case scenario, you have plan B which is to go back into private practice. The world is your oyster, don’t settle. Take a career risk which may make you extremely happy. Life is short, live it the way you want it.