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Six things to know about flexible legal staffing in 2021

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We recently teamed up with Chambers to host a virtual event on the shape of the flexible legal staffing market. Here, we share six things you need to know going into the year.

The last few years have seen a dramatic growth of the alternative legal services market, with increased sophistication, growing law firm involvement and heightened interest from buyers of legal services. With this in mind, Chambers launched their guide on alternative legal services providers, published in 2020, shining a spotlight on a number of areas of that market, including flexible legal staffing, for which Peerpoint was awarded a top ranking.

Flexible legal staffing providers were among the pioneers of the alternative legal services sector and have also evolved significantly, such that it is now possible to engage any resource from paralegal to general counsel level on an interim basis. There have been a considerable number of new entrants into the market in London alone in the last two years, and flexible resourcing options are becoming a key element of talent strategies for legal departments, sometimes accounting for as much as 30% of headcount at any one point.

Here are the six things you should know if you are considering flexible legal resourcing this year:

There are a few key reasons why employers are turning to interim resource

These are to manage regulatory change projects against particular deadlines; to deal with peaks in busyness relating to M&A or litigation matters and where specialist skillsets are required; to cover periods of leave, whether parental or otherwise; and, to support the consideration and building of a business case for permanent hiring.

More in-house teams are using interim lawyers to access tech and innovation know-how

An Allen & Overy survey of over 100 clients, looking at innovation within in-house legal functions, revealed more and more teams were turning to flexible staffing solutions to help fill technology knowledge gaps.

Jonathan Brayne, Partner and Chairman of Fuse, Allen & Overy’s tech innovation space, says: “Most innovation involves some combination of technology, process, data and resource, and those aren’t typically skills that you find in abundance in the average legal function. The need to access those skills when trying to innovate in the legal function is causing people to look at interim as a way to bring on board lawyers with prior experience in legal function transformation.”

Employers find flexible staffing to be more efficient than fixed staffing, with reputational benefits

By allowing the legal function to be sized for a certain base case of demand, making use of interim talent to cover peaks means clients do not have any staff sitting around that are not fully employed, nor are they attracting the overhead costs often attached to permanent staff. During challenging economic circumstances, such as those seen during the pandemic, companies with flexible talent pools were able to be more agile and responsive, and could flex their teams quickly without embarking on difficult redundancy programmes that might negatively impact their brands.

Providers have responded to the demands created by the Covid pandemic

With many projects expedited after six months of pandemic-induced stagnancy, and headcount freezes becoming more common, the demand for interim legal resource continued to grow in 2020. The resource planning horizons for in-house legal teams were often reduced from 6-12 months to 2-3 months, while clients also sought to hang on to the resources they had for longer. Peerpoint witnessed a 15% increase in placements being extended during 2020.

There were also some changes to the areas of greatest demand as a result of Covid, with a growing requirement for lawyers to support on litigation, restructuring and employment matters. And, with more people working from home, clients became much more open to working with consultants not based in close geographic proximity to the office, significantly expanding the available talent pool. Peerpoint’s Australian consultants secured more interstate and international interim roles than ever before, with this trend set to continue.

Buyers should think about culture and timing before bringing in consultants

All other things being equal, it is advisable to really understand the motivation of an individual joining your team on an interim basis, to smooth the on-boarding process. Different consultants want different things, so in addition to understanding their technical skills, employers should seek to understand what they are looking to gain from the experience and whether that is something the assignment can deliver, while also giving thought to the cultural fit for the organisation.

Outside of times where they have specific transactions, projects or management resourcing needs, employers often bring in flexible staffing solutions at the end of the financial year, when any leftover budget can be put to use on a valuable talent resource that can be deployed wherever is most appropriate, preventing their budget being lost.

The law firm-backed model offers several advantages

Where interim legal staff are backed up by a law firm, as at Peerpoint, partners can be involved in the vetting process to ensure a standard of quality. When joining the panel consultants can also have access to training and development opportunities offered by the firm as well as access to the resources, know-how and support of the firm’s lawyers. Before starting an assignment, consultants will often be briefed by the firm’s client partner and integrated into the client service team to ensure a good understanding of where they will be placed. As one of our panellists at the event said: “We have worked with a number of providers attached to law firms, all with slightly different business models, as well as with independent providers. The biggest difference I see in the law firm-backed model is quality; the quality overall is better when you use consultants attached to a law firm.”

Find out more

To discuss any of the points raised in this article, please contact Catriona Blamire (UK) or Rachel Carter (APAC).