If you’re running a small practice and are overwhelmed with work, the natural impulse is to bring in a new lawyer. With someone on-staff, you can be sure that there’s a safe pair of hands available to pick up the slack when you’re overwhelmed. But is this really the answer? What happens if the work isn’t sustained, or if the individual requires more training than you have time to give?
Flexible and collaborative work options are now pushing many small practices to hire only the specific services that are needed, when they’re needed.
One method of claiming back that market share is what is referred to as 'unbundling'. Unbundling is doing only the work best suited for your practice, and not necessarily representing the client for the whole matter. Many large firms have been doing this for years – either shedding completely those practice areas that are deemed unprofitable, or outsourcing the more commoditised work to LPOs. In many cases, it’s clients who are demanding that.
But if you’re a small firm, how do you effect that? How do you keep your client relationship, but use another party to advise on other elements?
LPOs and freelance services can fill some of this need. LPOs provide legal and legal support services, as needed, to law firms. You don’t have to be a big firm to use an LPO. But you do need to be clear about the ambit of the project and what you’re instructing them to do. You also need to be mindful about how you put your project together, how you price it, and what you’re matching the savings against. Is it against your time and labour (in which case, price that appropriately), or is it against an employed lawyer? When you consider the embedded costs of employing a full-time lawyer (including the time they spend under-utilised), even the incremental cost of an LPO may be a no-brainer.
Some of those matter elements you use an external to advise on may not necessarily be less specialist ones. They may just be elements outside of your practice area. That’s where hiring a lawyer on contract (or indeed building virtual teams of lawyers you regularly use for various elements of transactions) is likely to be a viable option. Why refer out the work, when you can keep control of the arrangement by using a contractor? You can write in a 'no poaching' clause into your terms of engagement with that lawyer, and keep your client relationship.
When your practice is next overwhelmed, before advertising a new position, working weekend after weekend, or referring out the work, consider some flexible needs-based alternatives.