Gaston Kroub, writing in Above the Law, features Per Diem Attorney NOW, an on-demand service for court appearance coverage needs. This particular service isn’t relevant to my corporate transactional law practice (I’ve spent more time in court as a juror than as an attorney), but it highlights a trend across the legal services industry: the increasing ease of hiring qualified attorneys on a project-by-project basis, rather than as a full time employee.
Some might see services like Per Diem Attorney NOW as nothing new, a legal temp agency dressed up with a high tech veneer. However, that would be like saying that Uber is nothing more than an on-call taxi service. Uber is successful not because of the quality of its cars or its drivers, but because of the ease of getting a car quickly with a couple of smartphone taps and paying for the drive. One can see a similar potential in services that allow law firms to be able to search for available candidates quickly, rather than calling a recruiter who may or may not remember an obscure specialty practiced by one of a thousand available temps.
More by accident than by design, I’ve structured my law practice to take advantage of the project-based hiring trend. When I launched my firm, I did just about everything myself, but as my workload increased, I found attorney help first from a temp staffing firm and then by assembling a go-to team of experienced attorneys who work for my firm remotely on an as-needed basis, along with a mid-sized firm that assists me with non-corporate practice areas such as tax. With that team, I’m able to successfully handle reasonably large transactions that are not typically associated with smaller firms. And unlike traditional firms with a team of full-time associates, I don’t have to make guesses about the extent of upcoming work to ensure I have the right amount of attorneys on staff.
As it becomes easier for law firms and corporations to be matched up with qualified candidates more quickly, one could imagine that more attorneys will feel comfortable with going out on a freelance basis, whether or not the attorney wants to actually hang out a shingle and launch a practice. At least for the type of work I do, it will continue to make sense to be trained at a traditional large firm, but for people who value professional autonomy, there is emerging a viable alternative to staying at the big firm or working full-time in-house.