In legal circles, much of the debate around the so-called “gig economy”, has focused on the legalities surrounding it - with high profile cases involving Uber and Deliveroo dominating press coverage.
"The gig economy is a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs."
And where debate goes, legislation is bound to follow. In fact, earlier this year the European Parliament introduced a law designed to fix minimum rights for EU gig economy workers. Whilst Brexit is likely to have an impact, in the UK we can expect similar standards to be maintained, with legislation already introduced at a national level.
The prevalence of “on-demand” jobs is not restricted to Europe though. In the US, lawmakers have recently passed a new bill aiming to tilt things back into the favour of gig workers and give them similar rights to employees.
And, whilst the wider debate is primarily centered on how the law can help gig-economy workers, many legal professionals have adopted the model for their own.
A 2018 survey by accountants and business advisory group Hazlewoods showed the number of “gig economy” lawyers increasing year on year – up to more than 1,000 in the UK.
What is the “gig economy” law firm?
In legal services, the rise of the gig economy has led to what we call the “platform law firm”. These firms have departed from traditional models.
As reported in the Law Society Gazette:
“Businesses such as Keystone Law, Excello and gunnercooke have created models where lawyers may be self-employed, work remotely and use a back office and other shared services.”
Just like companies in other industries making the most of the gig economy, their use of technology is key. In fact, they are almost entirely digital, from documentation to scheduling and billing.
With efficient back-office support for time-consuming administrative tasks, such firms are streamlined and flexible in adapting to client needs. Processes that may previously have required to-ing and fro-ing, such as onboarding a new client, can be reduced to simple online form completion.
A different approach to project management also means that freelance talent can be drafted in on a case-by-case basis. Location is no longer a deciding factor. And hourly billing becomes a thing of the past, as fixed fees are a possibility under the new model.
It’s potentially a revolutionary shift in the way legal services work for clients, but what does it mean for the traditional law firm?
Why is it a threat to traditional legal practice?
The traditional legal practice is far from renowned for innovation and cutting-edge technology.
On the other hand, a gig economy law firm can be agile, innovative, and foster an entrepreneurial spirit. This can be advantageous when working with other fast-paced businesses – tech startups, for example.
By reacting quickly to market demands, these new firms are disrupting the legal space. Greater efficiency and an almost exclusively digital service mean that user experience is enhanced, and costs reduced.
And, as we discussed in an earlier blog, improving legal services and client satisfaction through innovation is likely to be vital to the future success of your legal practice.
Gig economy law firms aren’t just a threat to your business, but your workforce too.
Flexible working is a core driver for this surge in gig economy lawyers - with many seeking the holy grail of work/life balance. For others, it's independence and entrepreneurial freedom that they seek. But regardless of the drivers, these benefits are going to be key in attracting talented people to the industry, particularly millennial's.
Whilst a platform law firm may offer this, a traditional practice may be seen as rigid – perhaps even archaic.
How can law firms compete?
Whilst the number of gig economy lawyers is still only a fraction of the total number practising in England and Wales, the trend looks set to continue.
By updating working practices and fostering a clear vision for innovation, traditional law firms can look to offset some of the competitive advantages the gig economy law firm offers.
Firstly, by looking at your employees – and considering how flexible and remote working benefits can be offered to them.
And secondly, using legal innovation to improve both working processes for lawyers, and the experience you provide to clients.
Whilst we aren’t suggesting a wholesale overhaul to the gig economy model, some forward-thinking steps will help the traditional firm to remain competitive as an employer and a legal service provider.