IT IS not exactly hiring by the hour, but Pinsent Masons is about to launch its Vario scheme in Scotland, in which it will act as an agency bringing together self-employed lawyers with companies or agencies with a specific project to complete or hole to fill.
The shake-out in the legal profession precipitated by the economic crisis over recent years has combined with a different perspective among some solicitors about their own work-life balance to create, probably for the first time, a corps of qualified and experienced lawyers who do not want to tie themselves to a 30-year career commitment.
The first to recognise the phenomenon in England was the London-based firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, which in 2007 created an offshoot, Lawyers On Demand, as a “legal resourcing business”. Eversheds similarly created Agile in 2011.
Jonathan Brenner, co-founder of Lawyers On Demand, believes the approach represents a sea change in the relationship between lawyers and clients.
“We have around 120 lawyers on our books but we only accept one in 40 of those who write to us,” he said.
“We’re not interested in people who are only waiting until they get a full-time job.
“Most major professions have for decades supported a sector of highly qualified freelancers who are freelance because they want to be.
“The law has been slow to realise it has been too rigid and snobbish at the expense of what the clients want and are willing to pay for.”
Pinsent Masons put together its Vario scheme at the end of last year but will be the first to market the idea in Scotland.
Alison Bond, partner in charge of the initiative at UK level, said: “Vario is about providing a flexible legal resource for our clients.
“There have been big changes in the legal market and like other law firms we have been looking at the way we provide legal services.
“Clients are looking to us to provide services in the way that makes most sense to them.
“Quite often they would really like someone on site and working as part of their legal team.
“We do that sometimes through seconding our own lawyers, but we wanted to be able to offer that option by drawing on a pool of qualified and experienced lawyers under our brand who can take on a specific project or work for a specific period of time that suits both them and the client.”
Geraldine Kelm will be responsible for the Scottish end of the operation. She said: “I think there’s a buzz about this kind of approach. What’s really interesting is the number of people who have come forward since we publicised we were recruiting.
“It’s amazing how many people want to work flexibly, maybe a couple of days a week because they say they are running another business, or in one case playing in a band.”
Pinsent Masons says it has 25 lawyers signed up and is seeing strong demand in Scotland across a broad range of legal services. It is particularly keen to hear from lawyers who have general commercial, construction infrastructure or energy experience.
Bond said: “Our part of the process is not just recruiting suitable lawyers but also talking to the clients and getting clear what sort of service and what sort of people they want. Do they want a temporary member of their team of lawyers orto bring in a lawyer to their team of managers?
“They often have an image of the person they want in the seat rather than the outcome they want at the end of the project.
“What the clients get along with the lawyer we place with them is the weight of Pinsent Masons behind them. At the end of the day these people are carrying our brand, so we have to be sure that the fit is successful.”