The concept of the 'virtual' law firm is well-established in the USA, and most definitely now has a foothold in a changing landscape here. A new breed of low overhead / lower charge-out-rate contract outfits such as Axiom, Riverview Law, Peerpoint, ItsMyLaw, Keystone Law, Lawyers on Demand, Halebury, Everyman Legal, Scomo, Cubism... offers an increasingly viable alternative to law firms in a recovering economy. Draw whatever analogy you will, "virtual" firm or high-quality temps, project-orientated legal services can be enlisted by the appointor as and when needed. To General Counsel, the option represents an ability to supplement in-house legal groups without having to recruit further full-time employees. This often means freeing-up permanent staff away from the high volume leg-work that contractors will offer to take over.
There is no partnership structure in the traditional model. With lawyers or teams either deployed on site, in a serviced office hub or working from home, there is no office to maintain. The "virtual" feel is enhanced by what will be a common internet-hosted secure server holding all the firm's files.
The scope for flexible working is obviously far greater for the individual contract lawyers, who are effectively independent self-employed consultants, choosing to work when they please to an extent. This enables greater control over the work/lifestyle balance or can provide convenient and productive career "in-fill" between full-time posts or coming back from a career break. You get paid for as much as you do basically, and without the hierarchical structure of a conventional firm. The umbrella firm will take a percentage cut from the charge out, but the lawyer can expect to take home somewhere in the region of three-quarters of the fees they earn - a much higher proportion than a salaried fee-earner in a conventional law firm.
But if you don't do or get enough work, you will not see the benefits. This might suit portfolio or part-time workers, but if you are revenue driven, it will require self-motivation and putting yourself out there. Further, you don't have the cocoon of a law firm around you in market downturns: a freelancer is going to feel the effects more acutely and directly. Nor will the benefits package compare with a conventional firm. There is the lack of an obvious career path, but more substantial 'managed services' contracts can offer more of a structure for the individual, and potentially a broad range of experience can be gathered to take back to conventional practice.
Such outfits are going to require a minimum level of PQE in their recruits, for example, 2 or 5 years. You are going to have to fit the mould too, in terms of the persona of the 'firm'. Axiom for example probably takes on 1 in 50 of the lawyers who approach them. Those they do hire average earnings of £125,000 pa.
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Whilst every care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time of posting, the information is intended as guidance only. It should not be considered as professional or legal advice.