Is Freelance Legal Work the Future? A Conversation with Overflow Counsel Co-Founder Jeff Fabian

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“Traditional work is dying.”

Freelance Legal Work

FastCompany does not mince words. Full-time employment is quickly becoming a relic, replaced by the so-called demand economy. Freelancers already comprise 34% of the U.S. workforce, according to a 2014 survey by Edelman Berland. By 2040, the American economy will have shifted nearly entirely away from inflexible, singular full-time employment toward entrepreneurship, independent contracting, and “peer-to-peer” work on platforms like TaskRabbit according to a new report published by the Roosevelt Institute and the Kauffman Foundation.

Legal work will not escape unscathed. Innovation might be slow to reach legal departments, solo practices, and law firms. But even still, technology is making legal services leaner and more efficient. New labor models will impact legal labor as well.

To discuss these changes I reached out to Jeff Fabian, Co-founder and Co-owner of Overflow Counsel via email to discuss the demand economy and legal work.

Why Overflow Counsel Exists

Overflow Counsel exists to connect busy law firms and corporate legal departments with freelance attorneys and JDs who can help manage their overflow. It’s kind of a TaskRabbit for attorneys.

Attorneys want freelance help for the same reason everyone else does. They want to be able to pay for help when they need it without having to find something for attorneys to do when demand is lower. Attorneys are taking freelance jobs for the same reason 34% of the U.S. workforce has: Full-time jobs are scarce.

What’s the Market?

“Law graduates’ employment full-time prospects are dwindling and even top graduates are considering alternative career choices,” Fabian wrote.

So-called NewLaw firms have integrated ‘flexi lawyers’ into their business models, according to business consultant Dr. George Beaton. And he recommends BigLaw firms do the same to help lower the high fixed costs of BigLaw.

“Think of advertising agencies or market research houses,” Beaton said. “For decades now they have been using freelancers – there is every reason why law firms should do the same.”

How does Overflow Counsel work?

Fabian is working toward expanding his network of freelance attorneys and establishing relationships with law firms and corporate legal departments.

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“We pre-screen any attorneys and JDs that want to join our network, and we only make connections that we believe will be a great fit for all parties involved,” Fabian wrote.

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“Ultimately, it is up to the firms and legal departments to choose the freelance attorneys and JDs that are right for them,” Fabian wrote. “We provide resources for managing the relationship and facilitate invoicing and payment, allowing the freelance attorneys to hit the ground running.”

What does the future of legal tech hold?

Fabian sees technological innovation’s impact on the field of law as positive.

“The recent blossoming of legal tech was inevitable, and as more and more attorneys embrace the efficiencies technology provides, the legal tech industry will only continue to grow,” Fabian wrote. “Lawyers’ clients – from personal injury plaintiffs to corporate CEOs – are tech savvy, and they will increasingly come to expect their lawyers to embrace change. Additionally, as clients gain access to information about lawyers through websites, video, and social media, firms will need to use technology to differentiate themselves and reduce costs so that they can maintain competitive pricing.”

What developments in the legal industry are you most excited about?

Unsurprisingly, Fabian is most excited about the growth of the freelance model.

“It’s why I started Overflow Counsel, and it’s something that I think is great for lawyers as individuals and the legal profession as a whole,” Fabian wrote. “Much like legal tech, it allows firms and legal departments to nimbly meet their clients’ needs. These days, you constantly see articles about the need for change in the legal industry, and I believe the freelance model will be a major part of the reshaping of legal services over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Potential Drawbacks

Critics of the freelance model point out that contract workers don’t enjoy the same job security, benefits, and stability as full-time employees.

Conclusion

The demand economy is impacting law just as it’s shaken up the rest of the labor market. The freelance model offers the flexibility helps lawyers and employers want.

Obviously Fabian is excited about these changes. But what about you? Do you think it’s a better model? Why or why not?

Looking for Law Practice Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Law Practice Management software solutions.

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Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is a former Capterra analyst.

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