Law Students and Aspiring Professionals Will Need to Get on the New Paradigm Legal “Gig Economy” Track for Future Career Opportunities
A Professional Career Perspective
John G. Kelly
B.Com., LL.B., M.Sc. (international relations) M.A. (Jud.Admin) F.CIS
A “gig” is a job of uncertain duration, whether it’s a driver, a freelance artist or an interim CEO. “Gigs” are what has been historically called contingent work, whether it is secured by the worker through a staffing company, through a human capital company, or through a digital talent platform. The Gig Economy, then refers to companies and business systems that have evolved to support this independent work.
Lawyers are Major Players in the “Gig Economy”
As a law student in an employment law course, or perhaps as a social science humanities (SSH) undergraduate in a social justice course, you’re familiar with the “Gig Economy” in the context oflow- end unstable work. Uber is the prime example.But what you may well not be aware of is the extent to which high end professionals like lawyers and consultants have been long standing active participants in a much more sophisticated “Gig Economy”
Or, as a partner in an elite law firm puts it:
A law firm is, in reality, a sophisticated “gig”platform. If you want to reach the partner rung on the law firm ladder you’ve got to get out there and “schmooze” to keep clients happy and willing to retain you on the referral list as well as hustle to bring in new clients. The longevity of the relationship with clients is measured on a case by case basis. And keeping those clients is becoming increasingly challenging in the big law firm arena as major clients adopt creative requests for proposals (RFPs) and coalesce into legal cost management networks.
This comes as a shock to many JD and LLB students who are under the illusion that the path to a secure professional career in law is to get hired by a reputable law firm with a solid client base as a junior associate. The law firm supposedly has impressive secure client relationships in place. Consequently, you feel that you can rest assured that there will be a steady flow of case files that you’ll be assigned to work on as you climb your way up the associate ladder. You just need to make sure that your consistently “overachieve” your “bill mill”target and avoid the dreaded “cull” of junior associates who don’t quite make the grade. True, you only net 40%-50% of the revenue you generate in the billable hour churn at a law firm, but your future is secure.
The reality of the “21stcentury dynamic professional services market”is that high profile successful law firm partners with enviable client lists are “flight risks”.They either see better opportunity in another firm and make discreet inquiries about moving on. Or, they are being actively scouted and counselled by recruiters to bolt ranks and get on board with another firm that will enable them to better service increasingly finicky clients and use that client base to leverage into related client service areas. In either case, the “gig is up” with the present firm and a new “gig” is generated with a new firm or perhaps their own personalized boutique. The justification for law firm loyalty in the “Gig Economy”, which was self-motivated rather than practice stability focused, is crumbing.
The Internet will Integrate Legal and Law Related Professional Services into the
People decide to join law firms, medical practices and other companies rather than sell their skills directly when the cost of doing business- making sales, handling finances, communicating with customers- is higher than the bump in pay they might receive by striking it out on their own. With the internet, many of these costs have become lower or even disappeared.
The internet is the platform for the foundation of the new paradigm “Gig Economy”.And it is a new paradigm. The epicenter for that platform is Silicon Valley. Adam Fisher, a native of Silicon Valley with a ubiquitous presence in Silicon Valley media and enviable insider access to major players, interviewed more than two hundred movers and shakers associated with the creation of the internet. He makes the following succinct observation.
The new paradigm “Gig Economy” doesn’t mean that a law student or aspiring professional with an undergraduate degree exploring the potential to obtain direct entry graduate LLM/MA Law degree as a door opener professional career credential should be thinking that they will be relegating themselves to an endless series of short term “high octane/high pressure”consulting/contracting assignments. That’s not how the Silicon Valley platform functions. In the Silicon Valley wonderland of high tech geniuses, Amazon, Apple, Google, Linkedin, etc. employ tens of thousands of “Gig Economy”professionals who have five to ten- year records of continuous and very rewarding careers.
The message that Silicon Valley is putting out that “gets under people’s skin” is that, in an information dominated economy the information holder can and should position themselves to manage their professional life in a manner that enables them to leverage their passion and professional aspirations into a career that adds value to their personal life and life-style preferences. You work with or for an organization so long as there’s a professional and personal lifestyle match in place. If and when a mismatch occurs, you move on. If and when the opportunity market provides an opportunity for re-match, you re-engage.
Professor Diane Mulcahy, an acknowledged expert in and ardent advocate of gig economy work describes its attributes and attractiveness to millennium and Generation “Z” new age professionals as follows:
The Gig Economy offers us the chance to structure and control our time in ways that we never could as full-time employees. Working as a contractor can give us unprecedented autonomy to decide where, when and how much we want to work. Even if we end up working more hours in the Gig Economy we retain more agency, ownership and control over where and when those hours occur. These changes encourage us to think explicitly about our time as a resource and be more intentional about how we allocate it and structure it. It also gives us more opportunity to align our time with our priorities.
The new paradigm “Gig Economy” is now emergent in the legal services market. New paradigm “Gig Economy”pioneer Marion McGovern, founder and CEO of MSquared Consulting and Collaborus has taken note of the successful launch of UpCounsel, an electronic platform that connects independent lawyers with clients looking for specialists in legal services niches. It’s growing exponentially and is able to pick and choose from among the best and brightest of lawyers flocking to its site. She reports that “UpCounsel, a legal marketplace only accepted 400 from 10,000 applicants”. That’s a 4% acceptance rate and corresponding 96% rejection rate. This extreme vetting is necessary because UpCounsel markets its platform as an elite speciality service to clients prepared to pay a premium rate for “niche” law and law related professional services. McGovern predicts that this is not an “outlier” in the legal services market and is a portend of a tren Speaking from experience as a professional who’s a successful platform developer in the high end “Gig Economy” McGovern has these words of wisdom for law students and aspiring professionals looking to open doors to these new paradigm profitable “gig” careers.
If you’re a law student or aspiring professional in and undergraduate degree program thinking of looking into opportunities the high end “Gig Economy” think in LLM/MA Law degrees as the preferred professional credential and career door opener.