- Meron Hewis, President, Legal Talent Outsourcing
While the U.S. economy appears poised for a strong rebound, it’s impossible to forget how bleak things looked one year ago. COVID-19 was raging. Workforces were dispersing. And the economic outlook and job market were in crisis. The legal industry was no exception.
Law firms and corporate legal departments instituted major layoffs during the early days of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal services industry shed 64,000 jobs in April 2020 alone.
One year later, the situation is much different. In early April, the International Monetary Fund revised its projections of U.S. gross domestic product growth in 2021 to 6.4 percent. The March U.S. jobs report showed a higher-than-expected 916,000 jobs were created. Federal stimulus money is pouring into the economy. Optimism is growing due to the vaccine rollout and perceived light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
In short, there are reasons to be hopeful about the prospects for the economy, in general, and the legal industry, in particular. As we recently discussed, the legal profession may be entering a new “Roaring 20s” of growth and transformation.
And that means, given the shedding of jobs that took place in the early days of the pandemic, that law firms and corporate legal departments will be looking to add legal talent—perhaps at a furious pace—to keep up with the demand for legal services.
As a temporary (or temporary-to-permanent) solution, we expect that contract attorneys will be called upon in great numbers to help meet the demand in the years ahead.
Three Ways a Contract Attorney can Help Your Law Firm or Corporate Legal Department
At Lexitas, we have decades of experience helping our clients find well-qualified attorneys and paralegals for their short- and long-term contract assignments.
Even before the pandemic, legal services providers increasingly turned to contract attorneys to fill gaps and add value.
The 2018 Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey found that 86 percent of chief legal officers intended to continue to use or increase the utilization of contract attorneys in 2019. A significant factor driving this growth is the fact that corporate law departments are realizing returns on their investments in outside resources. In particular, the Altman Weil survey found that over 70 percent of corporate law departments reported “significant improvement” in efficiency from their use of contract attorneys. Law firms, too, are increasingly turning to contract attorneys to fill gaps and add specialized expertise.
Here are three ways contract attorneys can help your law firm or corporate legal department achieve its objectives.
1. Handling Increasing Demand
Hiring takes time, and time is not on the side of law firms or corporate legal departments when the demand for legal services is growing. Contract attorneys can fill gaps during the search for permanent hires, which can last for months. Many talented attorneys who have left full-time practice are looking to perform contract legal work on a short or long-term basis. They can help get important jobs done in a crunch. And for law firms and corporate legal departments looking for a more permanent solution, engaging a lawyer on a contract basis is a great way to evaluate whether he or she is the right fit for a full-time position.
2. Accessing Specialized Expertise
Contract attorneys allow law firms and corporate legal departments, alike, to access specialized expertise not available in-house, allowing them to meet peak demand without having to increase permanent headcount.
For example, a law firm that provides only corporate mergers and acquisitions expertise may still need an ERISA expert to assist with deals from time to time, but not so often that it makes economic sense to have one on staff full-time. When such expertise is required, a contract attorney can help fill the gaps with ERISA expertise temporarily.
By utilizing the rapid deployment of specialized legal talent that can be plugged in to support an existing infrastructure within a law firm or corporate legal department, organizations can more nimbly adapt to market circumstances rather than being bogged down by under-utilized resources.
3. Shifting Fixed Costs to Variable Costs
A trend that has been in place in the legal industry since the onset of the Financial Crisis in 2008, is that law firms, as well as corporate legal departments, are being expected to do more with less. To adapt, many have sought to shift fixed labor costs to variable ones by building more flexible workforces by utilizing contract attorneys, and we expect this trend to continue, if not accelerate. Instead of relying exclusively on fully staffed, full-time teams, law firms and corporate legal departments can assemble teams of contract attorneys based on the specific project needs, allowing them to reduce fixed financial commitments.
Overcoming Challenges with a Contract Attorney
The driving force behind innovation in the legal industry in recent years has been a desire for more value in the delivery of legal services. While controlling fees and leveraging technology are key factors in value creation, so is having the right people in place to get important work done. Contract attorneys provide the talent and expertise needed to make that happen.