As 2014 ends and a new year begins, it is natural to reflect on the past and prepare for the future. From conversations with a wide range of lawyers, I suspect that for many, their future plans will involve exploring ways to work differently, with freelance lawyering an increasingly popular option.
It’s important prospective freelancers make the right choice: the legal market needs all kinds of lawyers who are happy in the space they occupy, be that as a freelancer, in-house lawyer or City firm partner. No one option is better than the other – it’s just all about fit. Fit with you, your lifestyle, your motivations and your goals.
Since co-founding Vario two years ago, I’ve learnt a lot about the kind of things prospective freelancers consider when looking to make a change – as well as the things they don’t consider but wish they had. Sharing these thoughts might be helpful as 2015 starts and you make those ‘future plans’.
1) Be clear about your motivations. Be clear, but also be honest with yourself. Sit down and articulate why you would like to freelance. What is driving you to consider this change? Only with a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve will you be able to critically assess the options open to you.
2) Are you running away from your current role or towards freelancing? Being motivated solely by the desire to avoid a situation is rarely a good foundation upon which to make a change. Freelancing is not without its challenges and so the decision to take this path needs to be motivated at least in part by a positive desire to work in this way.
3) List the cons. For those that freelancing suits, it is a wonderful way to work. Our Varios talk of the excitement they feel at facing the unknown, of being the master of their own destiny and at having more ‘colour’ in their life. But none of them would say that it is devoid of challenges.
Despite the market for freelance lawyers being incredibly buoyant, working this way inevitably gives less certainty and security than an employed role provides. With greater autonomy and independence comes the need to be more self-reliant. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made and, when this happens, the buck stops with you. Be realistic about the challenges freelancing may present and honest with yourself about your ability – and desire – to handle them.
4) Understand the finances. Speak to contacts in the industry to get an idea of the demand for your skills and kind of rates they will attract. Understand what your obligations as a freelancer will be and the cost of these (if any). Work out how much money you need (or want) to earn. Factor-in the amount of time you will choose to take off, as well as providing for periods of rest in between assignments. Now overlay the information you have to understand whether freelancing will suit you on a practical level.
5) Speak to existing lawyer freelancers. All my previous points have focused on the ‘head’: on being as objective as possible about your decision. This one is about the heart because, when all is said and done, most of us make a change simply because it feels right. A chat to one or two lawyers who already freelance will help you understand how freelancing feels for them and will ultimately hone your own gut-feel as to whether making a change to freelancing is right for you.
Wherever the New Year takes you, may it be a happy, healthy and interesting one.
Katherine Thomas is a director at Vario by Pinsent Masons