Optimizing a firm’s staffing can be difficult – and in a rush to make decisions quickly, firms end up wasting time and money on the wrong hires at the wrong time. For our clients, while the freelancing solution is obvious, they are not always sure how beneficial it can be. In our experience, working with freelancers can come with risks, but here are three major upsides that far outweigh them.
The first is flexible staffing during a recession. While we would not pretend to know when the next major economic downturn will occur, conventional wisdom says that every bull market must end. At almost ten years of age for the current bull run, recessionary fears have crept into analysts’ predictions for late 2019 heading into 2020. What does this mean for law firms? The time to prepare for a recession is before, not during – which means staffing strategy should be top priority. Non-attorney legal professionals, such as assistants or paralegals, can cost a law firm up to $80,000 or $90,000 per year even before you pay their payroll taxes. When you have consistent dockets, this figure is justifiable, but if workloads start to become unpredictable and sporadic, a firm can’t be saddled with long term salaries. Instead, firms can optimize their expenses by tying their output to the completion of specific jobs. Utilizing freelancers, firms can hire the people they need, only when they need them, minimizing unnecessary cash outflow while still delivering value to their clients.
It is well known that being a lawyer is one of the most stressful and demanding professions. According to The Balance Careers, the top two most difficult parts about practicing law are the stress and the long hours. Whether it is drafting documents, case research, contract drafting, document review, discovery review, or a bevy of other fairly repetitive and tedious tasks, these items take up valuable time that prevent attorneys from achieving a reasonable work/life balance. While younger attorneys that are just starting out have the energy to go several extra miles, more experienced attorneys with many successful outcomes under their belt are usually more desiring of a balance. By using freelancers, firms can reduce the “litigation overhead,” allowing them to focus only on processing the unique parts of a case that require their expertise, reducing the overall time they need to spend on a case. With those time savings in hand, attorneys have more time that they can spend in other areas like getting new clients and growing their dockets or going home at a reasonable hour to spend time with their family.
One final major way that freelancers help firms is by allowing them to significantly reduce operating costs. Our clients report that one major component of their overall operating budget is office expenses – office space rental or ownership, office supplies, computers, printers, and various other items. Another component is the continuously increasing cost of benefits – medical, dental, and vision. Using freelancers, firms can avoid these additional costs. One major cost that is typically not found in financial statements is the cost of the attorney’s time when it comes to training staff. Law firms spend a great deal of time training new hires and while freelancers must also be trained on the firm’s system, it is typically narrow in scope and only within the parameters of the task. They are also likely to bring along their expertise in that subject as opposed to new employees who may not have the necessary experience up front. In addition to a freelancer saving a law firm time and money, the firm should also consider the benefits of avoiding employee turnover.
In conclusion, whether it is reading economic tea leaves, achieving a work/life balance, or significantly reducing operating costs, hiring freelancers for your law firm could help manage the business in a unique way. We are excited to see the future of this space as firms increasingly adopt technology as a core part of their business, and lawyers embrace and take advantage of the gig economy and new way of how businesses get things done.