As lawyers, we are often told we can do many things with our law degrees beyond just practicing law. But what can we do with a law degree if we want to actually practice law? The list is perhaps a little more limited. Work with a firm in private practice or as a sole practitioner, or work in government, not-for-profit or in-house.
But wait, there’s another option: freelance lawyering. That’s right, freelance lawyering is a real thing and there are people doing it quite successfully.
I first became aware of this interesting niche-area when I was attending a women’s lawyer networking event several months ago. I met a lawyer there who introduced herself as a “freelance lawyer”, a term which was so new to me I had to ask what it was. That lawyer turned out to be Erin Cowling, a Toronto-based freelance lawyer who is also the co-founder of “Flex Legal Network” – a network of freelance lawyers who practice law independently.
Here is how it works. Let’s say a law firm gets a really big case and needs a few extra lawyers to assist with the legal work, but they don’t want to hire new associates to help with just one project. This firm would give Flex Legal Network a call and get set up with a lawyer with the appropriate expertise and background to help them on their big case. Other things Flex Legal Network can assist with include legal research, drafting, second-chairing a trial, document review, website content production such as blog posts and court appearances.
Flex Legal Network was founded by Erin Cowling and Ashleigh Frankel, both busy moms who, after years of practicing law in traditional firm environments, decided they wanted more choice, flexibility and balance.
They realized there are many lawyers out there who need an extra hand or two to help with large projects, and are looking for cost-effective and flexible solutions. Flex Legal Network involves lawyers from all different areas – criminal, family, corporate, etc. so they are able to meet a wide variety of needs. Because freelance lawyers do not have the overhead that law firms have, they are able to keep their rates reasonable and make themselves an attractive option for firms looking to outsource their overflow work.
Because I practice insurance law, of course I wanted to know how their insurance works. Cowling says that the lawyers in her network are all registered with the Law Society of Upper Canada as sole practitioners. Their professional relationship is with the lawyers they service, not the clients of those lawyers. However the same professional responsibility requirements exists for them as would any lawyer in a lawyer-client relationship.
Freelance lawyering is certainly innovative and interesting, but is it a good thing for the legal industry as a whole? Could it result in less associate lawyer positions for young lawyers because it is easier for firms to opt to outsource their work?
Cowling believes freelance lawyering is a positive, not a negative, to the legal professional by providing lawyers with alternative fee arrangements and meeting an industry demand.
Time will tell what the impact of freelance lawyering is on the legal industry as a whole. But it is a great that it exists as an option, especially for lawyers who want to utilize their skill set but are looking for more flexibility and work-life balance.