The migration away from fixed desks has reached new levels with hundreds of lawyers now working remotely. Research from accountancy firm Hazlewoods shows more than 800 lawyers are working for ‘virtual’ firms that have no office for them.
Using shared services provided by a central hub, it is now being claimed the legal profession is leading the drive towards the top end of the so-called ‘gig economy’.
This growth is also shaping the way traditional firms approach their working practices, with many already setting up ‘on demand’ services providing temporary in-house lawyers.
Hazlewoods said lawyers are attracted to avoiding much of the compliance and administrative burden they would have to face if they ran their own firm.
They can also take on as much work as they want and avoid the high targets set in some firms.
Jon Cartwright, partner in Hazelwoods’ legal team, said the growing population of ‘virtual lawyers’ reflects the changing landscape of legal services as technology renders distance obsolete.
‘Lawyers who may have previously set up their own firms are now realising the major cost and time savings of practising remotely,’ he said.
‘In their ideal scenario, "virtual" lawyers can make more money in fewer hours whilst working at times that suit them.
‘As well as providing a better work/life balance, many virtual firms are "sector-agnostic" and are happy to work with lawyers with any specialism.
‘This freedom has become a key reason for the growing popularity of virtual firms as lawyers are allowed to follow their own path.’
Cartwright said the emergence of firms setting up ‘on demand’ services, such as ‘Agile’ by Eversheds, ‘Lawyers on Demand’ by BLP and ‘Vario’ by Pinsent Masons, was reflective of the new working trends.
‘The emergence of the virtual firm is part of an ongoing diversification of legal services and traditional firms are starting to follow suit through launching their own online platforms,’ he added.
But while traditional firms think more remotely, virtual firms are showing signs of working in more traditional ways.
Last month, one of the biggest of the new breed of remote firms, Keystone Law, announced its intention to recruit whole teams of lawyers looking to break away from their current employer.
Previously focused on luring away senior practitioners, part of the offering to teams is to operate from the firm’s London central office.