Are contract lawyers enjoying a ‘purple patch’?

Are contract lawyers enjoying a ‘purple patch’?

18 March 2021 By Jerome Doraisamy
Are contract lawyers enjoying a ‘purple patch’?

Greater demand, combined with heightened economic uncertainty, is leading an increasing number of firms utilising contract lawyers, says Katherine Thomas.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Free Range Lawyers chief executive Katherine Thomas (pictured) said that, in an “uncertain but booming climate”, contract lawyers are proving themselves as an ideal solution at a time of higher demand, while also remaining agile.

“The concept of freelance lawyering was around even before I established Vario for Pinsent Masons back in 2013, but for many years, it existed solely to provide temporary cover for in-house teams,” she said.

“Then big law firms started to deploy contract lawyers themselves and experience the benefits. Now, we’re seeing the next stage of evolution: firms right through from larger national players to small boutiques, engaging contract lawyers to manage peaks and troughs of work.”


The Australian and New Zealander markets, Ms Thomas submitted, are particularly suitable for such professional arrangements.

“Unlike the UK, setting-up as an independent lawyer here requires investment. This means that most independents are entrepreneurial because they create a portfolio career that rewards their investment with control, variety and financial return, she explained.

“They are not looking for freelancing roles: most want more control than that, which leads them to part-time contract work alongside other commitments such as advising clients directly, writing content or lecturing.

“In-house legal teams usually want role-replacement contractors, but law firms are looking for assistance on a project or matter basis, where the cost of the lawyer is directly attributable to fees earned. This means there is a good match between what law firms want and what independent lawyers offer.”

Such a confluence of factors, Ms Thomas continued, has led to what she called a “purple patch” for contract lawyers in law firms of all stripes.


“CEOs and Managing Partners are coming to us saying that demand is off the hook in some areas, and they’re not able to find lawyers to do the work via traditional routes. Reluctant to turn the work away, they also know that they can’t simply ask their people to work harder,” she detailed.

“They come to us because they’re looking for a contract lawyer provider that’s focused solely on law firms and doesn’t compete with them by also serving the in-house market. By connecting them with contract lawyers who work remotely, on an ad-hoc, fixed fee or day rate basis, we enable these firms to do the work, keep clients happy, make a profit and maintain realistic expectations of their staff.”

Ms Thomas referenced the comments of Jennifer Tutty and Marianne Marchesi, who – speaking recently on The Boutique Lawyer Show – said that it has never been cheaper to expand one’s business.

“The rise of the lawyer freelancer means it has never been easier to expand a legal business by growing and reducing the workforce as and when needed,” she said in agreement.

“As heightened client demand combined with increased uncertainty creates opportunity and risk for law firms, it appears that many are finding a solution in engaging contract lawyers.”

Are you looking to launch your own practice but not sure where to start? Lawyers Weekly’s Boutique Law Summit returns to Sydney this month, designed for individuals who are looking to maximise their competitive edge in a post-pandemic marketplace. The event will be held on Friday, 26 March at the Four Seasons Hotel with a full agenda available to view here. To learn more about the event, click here.

Are contract lawyers enjoying a ‘purple patch’?
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