For many of us, our parents drilled into our heads that we must pick a [highly lucrative and socially prominent] career and stay with one very good employer forever – until retirement. Can you imagine?
Today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced world is very different than that in which our parents raised us. It’s now acceptable and even the norm to transition through several jobs as one evolves through one’s career. Still, each time I’ve taken a new job my parents react as if I’m intending to give them a heart attack. “You’re getting a new job?! Why on earth would you want to leave [company #x]?!”
Don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are very happy and extremely successful as partners at the same law firm that they joined after law school or are GCs at the same company they’ve been with for several years. Many of us yearn for flexibility in our careers in one way or another– to spend time with family, travel, attempt to write the next great American novel, idle time away at cafes, surf Mavericks or gain additional experiences at different companies in different industries. Having the freedom to pursue one’s non-work passions is frequently incompatible with most traditional professional workplaces, however, and the life of an attorney is known to be one of the most demanding, around-the-clock careers.
The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that more than 40% of the U.S. workforce consists of contingent workers, including freelancers, contract workers and part-time workers. The “gig” economy is booming. It’s exploding not just for commoditized, lower paid jobs, but also for professionals such as accountants, lawyers and c-level skillsets.
What if I told you that today it is totally feasible for in-house attorneys to have competitive compensation, richly rewarding work at exciting technology companies and flexibility calibrated to one’s own time table – whether you wish to work part-time, full-time, sporadically or remotely… and that you could achieve this freedom as a W-2 employee with insurance and vacation benefits?
A new model for practicing law:
Fenwick & West started its FLEX by Fenwick service when recognizing that certain types of legal services are best provided by a dedicated attorney in-house. At a certain point in a client’s growth, it isn’t feasible to use a law firm for routine commercial transactions and other types of legal work that can be handled more nimbly and cost-effectively in-house. The model works perfectly for highly trained attorneys who want flexibility in their careers but who also want to continue working on high value projects at exciting, quickly growing technology companies. Clients also love this new model of legal practice because of the flexibility and speed it affords. The model was initially catered towards venture-backed clients who didn’t yet have an in-house counsel of their own but has grown to include clients at all stages of growth, with legal needs ranging from technology transactions, to employment specialists, mergers and acquisitions, privacy experts, IP management and litigation experts.
Redefining what it means to be a successful attorney. It used to be that freelance work was seen as being less prestigious than having a permanent full-time job. That is no longer the case, particularly as the “sharing economy” explodes, technology allows people to work more flexibly and people yearn for more freedom in their work lives. If one achieves the “trifecta” of competitive compensation, stable assignments (depending upon the attorney’s needs) and access to high value clients, many would want to freelance their entire careers. This three-prong test is the magic formula. Being a “W-2” employee with access to employer -provided health insurance, PTO and other benefits is a differentiator that lights the freelance model on fire. Friends and family “trapped” in traditional jobs may envy them. Some attorneys want to work with a handful of different companies in a particular vertical for thirty hours a week, while others prefer to work with one dedicated client on a remote basis for two months each quarter. Having the flexibility to work as a freelancer and preserve ones employee benefits takes the freelance model to the next level.
Freelancing is here to stay. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is expected to release an updated report in 2017 about the growth of freelance and other “contingent” jobs. The numbers are expected to increase. We are living in the gold rush and freelancing can be an exciting way to work at different companies in this new economy.
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