One of the greatest impacts to a law firm or law department’s success comes from an increased focus on strategic lawyer staffing. According to a 2015 national legal survey, 77 percent of law firms that changed their strategic approach to lawyer staffing reported an increase in profits per equity partner, in the same survey general counsel reported greater agility to meet changing business demands.
Strategic lawyer staffing is based on an organization’s mission, values and client demand. One of the more successful trends in strategic lawyer staffing is the use of project lawyers. Hiring project lawyers is now commonplace. Many firms and law departments realize if they are not employing project lawyers as part of their strategic hiring policy, they are probably overstaffed.
Common Reasons to Hire a Project Lawyer
- The workload has increased enough to make your team feel overworked, but not enough to justify hiring another attorney.
• You took on a matter that made such extraordinary demands on your time for several months that you felt you were neglecting other matters.
• An issue outside your area of expertise arose for a client and neither you nor anyone else on staff had time to explore it adequately.
• You needed someone to assist you in a second chair role during a complicated trial.
• You (or co-worker) want to take parental leave, vacation or even a sabbatical.
• You don’t have room in the budget for another employee, but do have discretionary funds available to hire temporary attorneys to handle overload work.
• You have a specific cleanup project, after a merger or a reorganization.
• You have a merger, deal or contract where industry expertise is needed only until the matter is complete.
The use of temporary staff is a known concept for the legal profession, but there are many long outdated myths still out there.
Temporary attorneys can’t find permanent jobs and accept temporary jobs as a last resort.
• Temporary attorneys produce inferior work as compared to permanent attorneys.
• Temporary attorneys pose a threat to permanent staff attorneys.
• Temporary attorneys don’t do anything to support the bottom line.
Of course, successful firms and law departments know that all of these common myths are just that, myths, and all have been proven false. After all, hiring a temporary lawyer successfully requires the same rigor one would use when hiring a permanent team member.
Perhaps the myths linger due to the titles used to identify the temporary lawyer. The title of temporary or contract or project could be viewed as slightly demeaning and could support the mythical inference of lacking expertise, subpar, or not to be taken seriously. As use of temporary attorneys becomes mainstream, more appropriate titles may be: interim (a term commonly used in the C-suite); guest (as in guest lecturer); and, adjunct (most lawyers speak highly of their former adjunct professors).
The Hidden Potential of a Project Attorney
The use of project attorneys can result in measurable cost savings to an organization. Cost savings may include:
- A retaining lawyer can charge the client the regular rates of the organization which are often more than it is paying to a contract lawyer.
- There is no cost for employee benefits.
- A firm can keep work inside the firm vs. referring it out.
- Allows for agility and scalability – only paying for labor/work when it is needed.
Also, organizations realize there is a tremendous amount of talent that is available in the career project lawyer realm. These lawyers can include baby boomers who may have retired from their longtime career positions but still want to work, provide value, contribute and mentor in a more flexible manner. These folks bring a lot of experience to expand an organization’s bench strength. There are also parents of young children who want the opportunity to lead a more balanced and flexible life. Similarly, people who enjoy hobbies or traveling may select this path to pursue said hobbies. And, the new generations (Y and Z) may choose this path to “work to live” rather than “live to work” in the more traditional 8-5 way.
Tips for Success
Clearly, the use of project lawyers is a solution that makes sense in today’s economic climate. I recommend the following to ensure a successful experience when using project legal professionals:
- Hire the right professionals with the right background and training. Be clear on the expertise you need, and the background, training and experience needed to get the desired work product. Additionally, hire to match the vision, mission and values of your organization and your team.
- Integrate contract attorneys. Just as it’s crucial to orient and integrate all new hires, firms and in-house legal departments will likewise benefit from integration of project professionals.
- Have a plan. Determining the expectations of the project, the communication flow, and the report structure will help determine the project parameters. This will help determine the expertise, the experience and the duration of the project.
Project Professionals – A Differentiator
In today’s complex employment and economic environment, a permanent hire does not always meet your organization’s or client’s needs. Firms and corporations need to think not only about how project legal professionals (attorney, paralegal, compliance) can help save them money, but also how they can start making them money. Offering staffing that meets your organization’s needs is vital to client and talent acquisition and retention.