Contract work is not for everyone all the time. I speak with so many people and sometimes it is the right fit for their immediate situation, but often it could be something to keep in mind for the future. Understanding this option can be great for lawyers at different times in their career, when flexible work could be a better choice than a traditional private practice or in-house legal role. Let me give you a couple of examples of what it can look like.
I met a lawyer when she had around four years legal experience. She’d chosen to leave her permanent position after three years to take time out and ‘give back’ by volunteering for a number of months. When she was ready to work again, she didn’t want to go back to a permanent role because she still wanted to be able to take 4-6 weeks out every few months for either a volunteering project, or to do some travelling. Over the past two years, ES Agile has placed her with three different clients on 4-5 month contracts. She lets me know when she’s available and for how long and we match that up with requirements from clients so that it fits from both sides. Two of the three contracts have been in completely different areas to her original legal experience so it’s also given her the chance to try out a different area of law as well. This kind of experience may help position her well if she chooses to go back into a permanent role in the future.
Another lawyer had previously been in house for a number of years with a well-recognised name, he’d then had an amazing opportunity to set up his own legal practice in a new jurisdiction. It was a great choice for that time in his career, a new challenge and a different way of life with his family. A year ago, he and his family decided they wanted to move back to Asia. They made the move, but permanent opportunities with in-house teams were slow. He started speaking with ES Agile about a six month role with an immediate start and it fitted with his experience, so he started his first contract position. The role has been extended a further six months and he’s enjoying the flexibility and the prospects of working with different clients in the future. He sees consulting opportunities at ES Agile can provide similar benefits to working for yourself, as well as the safety net of a service which understands his skill and connects him to opportunities. The fact he’s employed through a global law firm also means his CV stays on track continuing to do great work with our clients.
So when is legal consulting work the right thing to do? If you are the main bread-winner, and the interim work available is erratic – there may be gaps between roles - it would be wise to look at the challenges of contracting before leaping into this as a career path. Talk to as many people in the interim legal market as possible before moving into the contract market. As I mentioned before, it’s not for everyone. Financially, it needs to make sense and this is even more true in Hong Kong and Singapore. Hong Kong is regularly listed as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in and renting here is an eye-watering monthly expense. Also, to start contracting, you will need to be immediately available or within 4 weeks notice, so consider your current notice period when you are moving across to a contract or interim role.
On the other hand if rent is not your only consideration for working, and you are available to start contract work, there could be quite a number of upsides for choosing to do contract work in the legal sector.
Freedom. It’s what is often talked about as a key attractor for millennials, however, it is an incredibly common theme for the vast majority of working lawyers that I speak with – at any stage in their career. The flexibility is a key draw card. For one lawyer if could be about creating your own work schedule, working for nine months of the year and having three months off. Or breaking out of a niche area of law – it’s easy to keep doing the same thing in private practice, or even in-house, because you are good at it, but it is tough to break out and do something different. Then again, if you are working full time hours but in an interim role, freedom could be as simple as leaving the office on time to get home and have dinner with the family, or meet up with friends at the time you agreed with them. Lawyers who work on a contract basis will often say they are choosing a way of working which makes them a happier person and flexibility gives them this control.
Within Asia, there is still a chasm in knowing about, and understanding, flexible legal work. In general, the lack of awareness about contracting is on both sides – both for lawyers as a career choice – as well as from clients, knowing that there is flexible legal resource available to them. I still find this surprising, when legal publications in Asia frequently include articles on legal innovation and contract or consulting work.
However, as with all things in the legal sector, the pace of change is slow – but change is inevitable. While it’s still early days for flexible working in Asia, it is growing and there are more entrants coming into the consulting and interim legal resourcing market in both Hong Kong and Singapore. If flexible legal work is something you would like to know more about, contact Mardi Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss opportunities in Singapore and Hong Kong.