Amidst all the reports of downturns in the legal business with firms cutting pay and furloughing staff, there are bright spots.
I recently talked with Kristin Tyler, one of the founders of LAWCLERK, and one of the more astute observers of the innovation and legal tech scene. She had lots of good news about LAWCLERK. She also had some interesting observations of where legal may be going–a subject that seems to be on many pundits’ minds these days. It’s always good to hear, though, from someone actually in the business.
LAWCLERK connects its stable of freelance lawyers in all 50 states to lawyers in law firms who need help on a spot basis. LAWCLERK also offers tools to assist with remote communication, timekeeping, and managing conflicts. Its freelancers are rated by previous users and work on an independent contractor basis.
According to Tyler, as expected, the downtown due to Covid-19 has attracted lots of new freelance attorneys looking for work. Many of these are solos or those who have been laid off. But on the flip side, Tyler told me that lots of lawyers are now using the service like never before. In fact, she told me the present market was “very encouraging for us”. February was strong for LAWCLERK and the March and April numbers were ahead of January.
One reason for this, according to Tyler, is that remote work and the slowdown have allowed LAWCLERK’s law firm customers to take the time to learn how to better to use the service. They are also learning how to properly delegate work to freelancers. (As a practicing lawyer, I always had to be reminded that taking to time to delegate and explain what I was after was always time well spent).
Another surprise. Small law firms have traditionally been significant users of LAWCLERK for obvious reasons. But now Tyler is seeing demand from bigger firms who need some support in an area but don’t necessarily want to commit to hiring people full time to do the work. Tyler also noted an increase in mid-size firm usage for the same reason.
She gave an example of the proverbial 50 state survey. LAWCLERK can supply lawyers familiar with each jurisdiction and the law there. The work can thus be done more efficiently than having an team of lawyers in other jurisdictions search the law. I’ve had to do some of these. They are disruptive since they are almost always time sensitive and you have to figure out how to staff the project usually on a short-term basis. And they can be time-consuming since many lawyers staffing the matter don’t know the law of each jurisdiction or how to find it easily. LAWCLERK offers a good solution.
While Tyler initially saw a dip in litigation as many courts temporarily closed, it’s now coming back. And the pandemic has created some new boom legal areas: employment law, for example, is exploding. Real estate law also is hot as businesses try to modify or even break leases as they discover the cost savings from working remotely.
Where Does Tyler Think We Are Headed?
She thinks when recessions and calamities occur in the marketplace, the law business doesn’t necessarily decline. It instead shifts to new and different areas. She thinks this will inure to businesses like LAWCLERK, which can nimbly supply expertise to firms in these new areas. This reduces the cost to firms from hiring long term employees not knowing what the future will bring.
Tyler believes the business of law is fundamentally sound.
Tyler believes the business of law is fundamentally sound. She’s convinced there are lots of opportunities for lawyers who take the time to understand what their clients need and want, particularly in new areas. As for clients, Tyler predicts clients will continue to search for more flexible fee arrangements.
Like most, she thinks the remote work option is here to stay as lawyers prove to themselves it is viable. Instead of an all or nothing scenario, Tyler predicts a hybrid system. Some lawyers work from an office and some at home, perhaps on a rotating basis.
In a rush to get up and running, lawyers have ignored some security and confidentiality issues that will need to be addressed. Things like the robustness of passwords on home routers
One note of caution. Kristin believes that in a rush to get up and running, lawyers have ignored some security and confidentiality issues that will need to be addressed. Things like the robustness of passwords on home routers, things that many people weren’t too concerned with when their WiFi was primarily used to surf the net or play video games.
She also mentioned confidentiality concerns when working remotely. How do you protect client confidences when you have roommates if you are a young lawyer, for example? The ethical rules require security, and that confidences be maintained no matter where you are. New issues and concerns lawyers need to grabble with remote work on a long term basis.
It’s good to hear though that amidst the doom and gloom, some innovative legal businesses appear to be thriving.