Emerging technology, budget-conscious clients, and new ways of doing business have opened the door for a whole new breed of legal professionals in the millennium: the freelancer or virtual worker. As legal professionals forge new ways of doing business, a growing number of law firms and legal employers are outsourcing legal work to freelancers to handle work overflow, bring in new expertise, and serve clients more cost-effectively.
What Is a Freelancer?
Freelancers are independent contractors who work from home or a remote location. The advent of the internet, smartphones, computer-based legal research databases, advanced telecommunication systems, and mobile technology has made it possible to work from a "virtual" office rather than at a traditional law firm.
Freelancers go by many names such as consultant, solo professional, virtual employee, independent contractor, virtual professional, and self-employed professionals. Legal freelancers are generally not tied to one employer. They serve a variety of clients across the globe, working on projects they choose with flexible hours.
These remote employees represent a great value to the employer because law firms don't have to provide them with benefits or make room for them in the workspace. They don't have to provide office supplies or a secretary; so much of the traditional overhead is eliminated.
Freelancers help employers deal with work overflows or tight deadlines without hiring additional staff. They sometimes offer expertise not found within the firm. They can also perform local work on behalf of out-of-town firms, such as court appearances or filing papers with local courts, and this eliminates the firm's need to send an associate to travel to those locations.
Freelance Careers in the Legal Industry
Many careers in the legal industry lend themselves to freelance work, including lawyers, paralegals, court reporters, legal secretaries, litigation support personnel, legal nurse consultants, and even law students who aren't yet working at a firm. Budget-conscious clients, mobile technology, globalization, and changing law firm business models have fueled the growth of legal outsourcing for a wide range of legal services.
Advantages of Freelancing
Working from home can be a dream come true for many legal professionals. Flexible schedules, better work-life balance, and greater autonomy are several of the top reasons to launch a freelance business.
There are also drawbacks to self-employment, including some degree of isolation, variable workloads, unpredictable income, and lack of employer-paid benefits.
Disadvantages for the Law Firms
Law is a highly confidential business, so using remote workers can pose a unique risk to firms. Clients' confidential files and information must be emailed or otherwise forwarded to another location away from the office. That location may not be state-of-the-art secure, and not all firms are willing to take on this risk.
The good news is that if you're thinking of taking this route, the costs of maintaining a freelance workforce, at least in part, are often significantly lower than the costs for in-house employees.
If you're interested in freelancing, the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals can help. This association was created to assist freelancers in optimizing the financial and personal success of their businesses, as well as to raise the profile of freelancing as a career choice.