The law firm consultant who wrote Chancery Lane’s practice note on freelancing says he has fielded ‘hundreds’ of phone calls from solicitors keen to go it alone. These contacts have ranged from magic circle partners to law centre advisers, Paul Bennett, a partner at advisory firm Bennett Briegal, told the Law Society’s annual risk and compliance conference today.
Bennett Briegal has also fielded interest from freelancers who wish to band together under a self-employed ’chambers’ model akin to how the bar works, he added. This would enable them legitimately to circumvent restrictions on how freelancers can operate under the deregulated practising regime introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority last November.
Such a model could pose a ‘major threat’ to existing firms, as operating as a chambers would enable freelancers to take on more work and outsource secretarial support, Bennett suggested. As sole traders operating alone, freelancers are not allowed to use a trading name and for reserved activities cannot employ staff.
So far some 71 solicitors have registered as freelancers, Bennett told the conference. He expects the number to grow sharply over the next ‘five to eight’ years. Alternative business structures were slow to take off but now comprise 10% of all firms, he stressed.
Bennett went on to warn that law firms will lose talented staff to the new freelance option unless they ensure the culture of their practice is truly inclusive. 'Ask yourselves why someone would want to work for your firm,’ said Bennett. ’Your culture will come under increasing scrutiny - every single person who has contacted me doesn’t like the culture of working in a law firm. Are you tackling the lone wolf in the corner who bullies people, who is aggressive with people, who harasses people?'
He added: ’How do you encourage inclusivity as your people’s lives change and their careers evolve?’