The “Win-Win” Benefits of Contract Staffing
October 27, 2021
Legal Talent Outsourcing
The “Win-Win” Benefits of Contract Staffing for Attorneys and Employers
The job market is tight, with millions more open jobs than workers wanting to fill them. While many open positions exist in lower-wage fields such as hospitality and transportation, the legal industry is no exception when it comes to finding a supply of talent to meet market demand.
Earlier this year, legal market data provider Leopard Solutions reported that there were 8,268 open jobs for attorneys at all levels at approximately 1,000 firms across the country, a 150% increase from the start of the pandemic.
Today’s legal job market reflects an immense shift from Spring of 2019 when law firms and corporate legal departments were shedding talent. Now they are trying to add it back at a furious pace to keep up with the demand for legal services.
As an interim solution, we expect that experienced contract attorneys will increasingly be called upon in great numbers to help meet the challenges firms and legal departments face.
This trend is fueled not only by demand, but also the fact that remote work is now widely embraced. The COVID-19 crisis made clear that sophisticated legal work can be done by remote-working attorneys. Location doesn’t affect performance, and clients care little about where work is being done as long as it has the right quality and completed on time. This opens up new options for legal services providers to acquire the contract attorney support they need.
For law firms and legal departments, as well as contract attorneys, it’s a win-win environment. Here’s why:
Benefits for Law Firms and Corporate Legal Departments
Addressing 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. Experienced contract attorneys can fill gaps during the search for permanent hires, which can last for months. Many talented attorneys who have left the full-time practice of law are looking to perform contract legal work on a short or long-term basis. They can help get important work done in a crunch. And for law firms and corporate legal departments looking for a more permanent solution, engaging an attorney on a contract basis is a great way to evaluate whether someone is the right fit for a full-time position.
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 commercial litigation expertise may still need an IP attorney to assist with cases that involve IP issues, 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 IP expertise on a temporary basis. This allows organizations to more nimbly adapt to market circumstances, rather than being bogged down by under-utilized resources.
Shifting Fixed Costs to Variable Costs. A trend that has been in place in the legal industry since the onset of the Financial Crisis is that law firms, as well as corporate legal departments, are expected to do more with less. To adapt, many have sought to shift fixed labor costs to variable ones by building more flexible workforces through the use of contract attorneys. 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 needs of a project, allowing them to reduce fixed financial commitments in the process.
Benefits for Contract Attorneys
Opportunities for Excellent Compensation. In the past, the term “contract attorney” was often associated solely with tasks such as document review. High-margin work was reserved for full-time attorneys who worked in-house or at a law firm. Because of the high level of demand for specialized talent, today’s contract attorneys are being paid high hourly rates that can result in yearly compensation that matches, or even exceeds, what they can earn in a full-time role. As we all learned in Econ 101 (and experience when we fill up our tanks or go to the grocery store these days), when demand outstrips supply, prices go up. And demand is up for contract attorneys.
Greater Flexibility. As described above, the results of the grand experiment testing assumptions about the feasibility of remote work in the legal industry are in: attorneys don’t need to be under the same roof to do legal work effectively. This means that flexibility minded attorneys are becoming increasingly empowered to work where they want, when they want, and for whom they want.
Steppingstone for Next Opportunity. For many attorneys, a legal career feels like a high-speed highway. It often seems like the only options are to put the pedal to the metal or exit (or worse, crash). An increase in contract opportunities expands those options. They offer “on ramps'' for those looking for an entry point to a new in-house or law firm career, as many employers use contract arrangements to evaluate attorneys for full-time positions. They provide “scenic overlooks” for those looking to pause, evaluate, and assess where they’re at in their careers, and determine what comes next while still earning income and sharpening their skills. And they provide “off ramps” for others who have reached the end of a stage in their careers but still want to stay immersed in the practice of law.
Fewer Non-Billable Headaches. Contract engagements allow attorneys to focus on what they do best—legal work itself—rather than client acquisition, billing, and other administrative work.
It’s a Win-Win for Employers and Attorneys
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. And having the right people in place to get important work done is how value gets delivered. Contract attorneys provide the talent and expertise needed to make that happen.
At Lexitas, we help law firms and corporate legal departments find legal talent, and talented attorneys find opportunities. Contact us to learn more.
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