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Contract lawyering: An option at any time of your career

Contract lawyering: An option at any time of your career

The gig economy has exploded onto the scene in Australia like in many other countries, with companies like Uber and Deliveroo thriving, writes Matthew Kay.

But, of course, the gig economy doesn’t just mean taxis and food delivery. The legal profession has also welcomed this new way of working flexibly with the contract lawyering model. Across the world, lawyers are starting to wake up to the fact that they don’t have to do the traditional working hours and can introduce more flexibility and variety into their work/life.

This remains a relatively new phenomenon though. Despite studies showing that flexible working increases productivity and high-profile figures in the business world waxing lyrical over the benefits, the take-up in Australia hasn’t been as quick or widespread as expected, according to a report from Bain & Co and Chief Executive Women.

“Flexible working is still viewed as the exception to the rule in the majority of Australian companies. Less than 50 per cent of organisations have a workplace flexibility policy."

We even saw a consultancy, Career Insider Track, launch Flexible Working Day last year to encourage more businesses and employees to consider flexibility, after statistics indicated it wasn’t as mainstream as it should be.

Bain & Co and Chief Executive Women found 60 per cent of males would be open to working flexibly but were twice as likely to have requests for flexible work rejected. However, the good news is this trend is reversing and more people are thinking about how they can inject more agility into their working lives.

Traditionally, contract lawyering is seen as a path for more experienced lawyers to take as a way to wind down their careers. But times are changing and we’re seeing more and more lawyers decide to start working as freelancers for a variety of reasons.

For newly qualified lawyers or those less keen to pursue the traditional path towards partnership, working as a contract lawyer can provide a much more varied experience than working in one firm – boosting their CV and providing valuable skills across a diverse range of sectors and industries.

For new parents, contract lawyering can be a great way to add more flexibility and rebalance their work/life.

We’ve also seen lawyers decide to take the contract route as they want to pursue a passion project and turn it into a business venture, or even live abroad.

So, how does it all work?

Contracting in the legal sector has grown over the past few years in Australia and we’ve seen a growing demand from businesses for a scalable in-house legal team that can be grown or shrunk depending on their needs.

Working as a contract lawyer for Vario from Pinsent Masons means we match each lawyer to one of our clients, with assignments usually lasting between six and 18 months. Our recruitment process includes a personality test which was developed by business psychologists – the idea behind this is to ensure the right lawyer is matched to the right contract.

Nonetheless, contracting isn’t an easy switch for every lawyer to make. As well as solid legal expertise, soft skills are very important, and the pressure of being parachuted into a business and being expected to perform from day one doesn’t suit every type of personality.

To make a great contractor, a lawyer should be flexible, have fantastic people skills and be able to perform well under pressure. It is here where our personality testing can prove invaluable.

There is, however, no doubt that the desire for more flexible working solutions and therefore contract lawyering will continue to rise, and it certainly can help open doors for lawyers no matter where they are in their career journey.

Matthew Kay is a director at Vario for Pinsent Masons.

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