The Canadian futurologist who wrote a key report on ‘agile working’ in the legal profession, has issued a blueprint for law firm associates who aim to strike out on their own.
Commissioned by freelance lawyer network Lawyers on Demand (LOD), part of City firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, Mr Furlong has devised a three-step process to assist lawyers thinking of becoming self-employed. It aims to maximise the lawyer’s value in the legal marketplace and tackles planning, launching and growing an entrepreneurial business.
Commenting on the process, he said: “Associate lawyer positions have traditionally required hard work and a willingness to make a long-term commitment which have been balanced with good remuneration, secure employment, and the chance of partnership.
“Today, the first benefit has shrunk, the second has almost disappeared, and the third is not only less likely but is also a less attractive option than ever before.
“As traditional legal jobs begin to fade away, new legal employment opportunities will begin to proliferate, promising more choice, flexibility, and customisation than most ‘jobs’ could ever offer.”
Speaking to Legal Futures, Mr Furlong said the blueprint did not apply to associate lawyers who were “comfortable being an employee” and whose job was secure. But for lawyers unable to find employment, or no longer able to continue, or who experienced a “frustration of lifestyle”, adopting an entrepreneurial approach to the career ladder was attractive.
There were also those lawyers “that have that spark somewhere within them – they have an idea that that ‘I would like to do things my own way and to approach them in my own fashion’”.
He observed that, in the past, “if you wanted to be a law firm owner you had two options: to hang your own shingle or to join the law firm in the hope that one day they would make you a partner and an owner. It was really all of one or all of the other”.
A “middle way” was now emerging with “agile and flexible entrepreneurial lawyering opportunities”. He added: “I think we are seeing this opportunity and I think it fits in with what we are seeing elsewhere; a sense of being a bit of a free agent, or a freelancer, a consultant, an expert. Someone who says ‘I make my own schedule and I work my own time, but I’ve got a network, a web of relationships’”.
He said that in Canada and the US, firms similar to LOD had appeared. “When you look at the people they are drawing in, it’s on the one hand younger people who have been marginalised… by the traditional law firm development system – and by the way that is especially the case for women – but at the same time we are also seeing more senior lawyers who say ‘I want to do something different’.”
He concluded: “It’s a really interesting new mix… It’s the idea that we are going to have a portfolio of different approaches to grouping and organising legal talent for the purposes of delivering solutions and value to clients. Because traditionally the only way you did that was through a law firm.”
The three-step process consists of assessing your “market value proposition” as a lawyer, and improving it where necessary; “launching” yourself “within your chosen community”, such as self-publishing your “know-how through blogs and social media”; and “growing” your business, such as tapping “the latent legal market: the blue oceans, the overlooked markets”.
Simon Harper, co-founder of LOD, said; “If you are an associate at a law firm, or if you’re several years into your career, regardless of your current position, the legal environment has changed more during this brief time than at any period in the last several decades, with little warning and even less guidance about how to respond.
“Since LOD was founded in 2007, we have seen attitudes shift and ‘agile working’ is now seen as a desirable means of employment.”