With work flowing away from mid-sized firms with high overhead to either the established elite or small shops, the shape of the legal labor market was bound to change as well. And while small shops are capturing bigger and bigger jobs in part because of advances in legal technology, at some point there will always be a need for a human lawyer. That’s where Lawclerk’s solution comes in at the intersection of technology and human capital. Joe chats with Greg Garman and Talitha Gray about their platform and how they help efficiently match freelancers with small shops needing a dose of expertise.
Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer
The Rise Of The Freelance Lawyer
Intro: Welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and pop culture, all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.
Joe Patrice: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Thinking Like a Lawyer.
I can actually run all of my sound effects this time because Elie is not here to complain about the fact that I use sound effects. Elie is sick so I am Joe Patrice from Above the Law. I guess you probably knew that by now and Elie Mystal is not able to join us because he has succumbed to illness. I believe that’s — or at least that’s what he is telling us.
I also would note, unrelated to anything else that the video game Red Dead Redemption 2 recently came out and I am not saying that that’s why he is not here, but it certainly wouldn’t shock me.
But we are here. We are still going to have a show because it must go on. I, myself, have been spending most of the day marveling at the sheer stupidity of certain in-house counsel, in particular the University of Maryland’s crack legal team who managed to squander any opportunity to make a firing for cause claim by bringing back their coach after an internal investigation found that he was basically leading a toxic culture that led to somebody’s death and then within less than 24 hours reversed course and fired him without cause. So they now owe him millions of dollars.
If you are wondering why people say that you need an in-house counsel who can manage your matters to protect institutions from big mistakes, this is a good lesson in that. Once again, an epic fail on the part of lawyers and we are here at Above of Law to make fun of it. So that’s been most of my day.
Meanwhile, I have been looking forward to today’s conversation, where we are going to talk a little bit about some technology and changes in the industry for legal services and so we are going to get into that.
Before we do that, I am just going to quickly make the pitch that I usually do at the end of the episode, but you usually stop listening by then, so that’s why I am going to make it now, which is you should review this podcast and give it stars and write a little review about it, because every time you write things about it, it increases the profile on the algorithm that decides what podcasts are truly legal podcasts. So when somebody types in, I want to listen to something about law and we want them to listen to this, so be sure to do that.
With that, let’s transition now and we will start talking about the changing nature of the legal industry. So with me today I have Greg Garman and Talitha Gray from LAWCLERK. So talk to us a little bit about LAWCLERK folks.
Greg Garman: Well Joe, thanks for having us, first of all and give Elie our best. Talitha and I are longtime practicing lawyers. I have been in the business more than 20 years. I started out at a regional firm and worked my way up to be the managing partner. And so I was in the business of studying the economics and the business of law for a long time and ultimately concluded that times were changing and we needed to change.
And so one of the things that Talitha and I did is some three or four years ago we left that regional firm that we were at and opened a boutique, concluding that the business model was a business model that was moving either towards Am Law 20, Am Law 40 or boutique shops.
And so we opened after some — giving it a lot of thought, we opened a boutique shop that now numbers about 20 lawyers. But we missed some of the resources that we had and ultimately we changed business models to be more flexible in our pricing structure, to have less conflicts, better quality of life, lower the overhead, all those things that people talk about all the time. But at the end of the day we missed having 100+ lawyers, somebody with securities expertise or tax expertise, whatever the case might be, and that’s where LAWCLERK came from.
LAWCLERK came out of our need to better our own business model, but yet have access to freelance lawyers with every area of specialization. And so we spent a year getting LAWCLERK ready to launch. We launched it at ABA TECHSHOW in February. What we do is we connect busy lawyers who have particular needs, whether it be an extra set of hands dealt them, get ready for trial, need subject matter expertise, whatever the case may be, with a really talented pool of freelance lawyers that are out there in the world who have decided that, for whatever reason, whether it be family reasons or whether it be that they just want to live a different lifestyle have decided that freelancing is the way that they want to make their living.
Joe Patrice: So Talitha, we are talking about — that was actually a good segue. So we talk about these freelancers who have made different choices, like who are these freelancers qualifications wise, are you getting like a wide range of people in a lot of different expertise areas?
Talitha Gray: Absolutely. That’s what’s super interesting. So while we certainly have some first years, we have a large number of stay-at-home parents who practiced for five, six years, many in big law, who have specialized knowledge in a vast array of areas.
We are starting to get more military spouses, which is wonderful. It’s a great resource for folks that are transitioning frequently and don’t want to take a plethora of bars.
And we are also starting to get a lot of retirees. So you have these fabulous attorneys who practiced 20 years in immigration or in securities or tax or bankruptcy, who are looking to keep their toes in the water and want to do a little bit of work that are available to assist attorneys.
So we cover — I have seen everything from admiralty projects, again to immigration, criminal, civil, just about every area of law come through and we always have a robust number of freelance attorneys that are qualified applying for the projects.
Joe Patrice: The military spouse thing is huge and it’s become — I have heard it at conferences over the last several years. I went to an ABA meeting where there was a discussion about what they could do to change and to promote for changes to State Bar rules to help out those spouses. And it’s definitely true.
I mean I know since I work a little bit with folks at West Point, I have a lot of former cadets who are now in the military and several of them are married to lawyers who have to bounce around, but still need to make their living, so taking different bars or working and different kind of telecommuting things. So that’s a really important one and there’s a wealth of expertise there that people don’t really tap.
Talitha Gray: Absolutely.
Joe Patrice: So one thing that struck me was I — when I first started thinking about this was that while there is obviously freelancers for every — freelancers for a lot of different reasons, I always wondered if there was like a practice area that lent itself better or worse to it. But it seems as though from talking with you all and when we all chatted a little bit at a conference before this that there is not really a push of just like a ton of IP people or anything like that, it’s kind of across the board, you are getting people doing all sorts of different things.
Talitha Gray: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly the largest group is your general litigation, so civil, criminal, family type matters, but we really do see across numerous practice areas; immigration, IP, estate planning and trusts, a lot of corporate work in a variety of areas, tax. So really the platform allows for attorneys to get help with just about every area of law and we have the freelancers that have those specialties to help them.
Joe Patrice: So Greg, one thing you mentioned was that there is — that you saw and I completely agree, that there is — that the market seems to be bifurcating into the super elite, top 20, 30, whatever firms and then these smaller, more agile, less overhead firms, I think that’s coming to be for sure.
But the idea of what LAWCLERK does that I think is fascinating is the idea that they can now take on — we have seen these — part of the move to these smaller firms is that the technology has finally allowed them to — they can leverage that to compete for the bigger jobs that used to have to require a more robust midsized firm, if somebody was looking at a price point that wasn’t the elite. Now these smaller firms can absolutely do that with the help of technology. And you add kind of a dimension to that which is, if the project requires scaling up, you can be flexible and scale up with people.
Greg Garman: Yeah. So we are listeners of the show and you often comment that lawyers are luddites at adopting new technology and that’s really true. When we think about the way lawyers have operated, the business hasn’t changed for 75 years and you talk a lot about why that’s the case, but at the end of the day we are living in a world that lawyers are going to be forced to change their business model.
And we have been talking for, God, the total 20 years of my career we have been talking about how the billable hour is dead, and it’s not that we can’t come up with a replacement for it, it’s that we can’t come up with a replacement for it that’s nearly as profitable as the billable hour. And I think that’s why we have historically been slow to move in new directions with business models and technology.
So the cornerstone of what we do is — there is a lot of technology out there that really helps lawyers to become more efficient. There is the document management software. There is certainly the discovery tools that are really great, but it’s really just evolutionary on the business model and it just allows lawyers to be more efficient. Great technology in the practice management software, but there is not a lot that allows lawyers to let their business model evolve in any meaningful fashion.
And so what we are doing at LAWCLERK is we are allowing lawyers to expand the resources when they need them. When you have got to go to trial, you need people prepping the motions, summarizing the deposition testimony, whatever your practice area, there are ebbs and flows of what we do, and our business has always, I think, been behind the curve because we have always been a revenue-driven business as opposed to a cost focus business.
So LAWCLERK allows lawyers to scale up when they need it, without the fixed overhead associated with full-time associates. That’s the killer that small firms face is the ebbs and flows of work when you can’t keep your associates busy or you don’t have an associate with exactly the practice area you need or exactly the seniority that you need, that’s what’s really killing people for in the business model.
Joe Patrice: So the big challenge is going to be, and there is the luddite aspect of not understanding computers and then there is the idea of even beyond the luddite aspect of just bringing in people that you may not necessarily know to help you out, to move into kind of a freelancing world.
And I thought one of the things that when we spoke at Clio Con that really stuck with me were some of the anecdotes you told about some of these folks that have actually worked for folks, like people being brought on and doing good jobs and being kind of a — getting into the fold of being a constant source. People go back to the same ones and rate them and so on and so forth.
So just explain kind of how that works and kind of give some comfort, if I am a small firm out here thinking, yeah, I don’t know about going on, give some comfort to us.
Greg Garman: Yeah. I mean look, we are asking people to do the most uncomfortable thing, which is essentially trust us with their clients, your most valuable asset as a law firm, but what we really do is we allow the attorneys who have excess work or need somebody specialized to go out there and find a small group of lawyers that most of them work with routinely.
So the first project you post on LAWCLERK, let’s just say you need a memo and you want to pay $450 for a research memo on some area of law. That goes out into the marketplace and lawyers who are the freelance lawyers, more than a thousand of them, if that’s their area of law, they get a text message or an email that says, this project went up, this is how much it pays, this is who you would be working with.
They apply to work with the lawyer who posted the job. So the lawyer who posted the job reviews résumés, writing samples, and absolutely most importantly the previous reviews of the other lawyers who have worked with them and they decide who they are comfortable working with.
And so what we find is that people are building entire business models around freelance lawyers because they find five or six that they work with on a regular basis. They find a young lawyer to do the research that they need. They find somebody who is five, six, seven years out, who has got expertise at discovery to either propound or answer a written discovery. They find somebody who has got leasing experience. So they find five or six or however many lawyers it would be to do different aspects of the practice, because our clients, they expect the expertise.
The days of really being a general practitioner without any specialization, those are long gone and clients are pretty sophisticated now. They go to people with estate planning experience to get a will and a trust done.
And so the model that really allows solos and smalls to compete and to scale is to find that group of regular lawyers that they work with when that, whatever their emphasis is comes through the door.
And so we recently rolled out some features, because this is what we were seeing that allow you to — once you have built a team, it allows you to build a virtual law firm, and so when that discovery project comes through, you have already built a list of people that you work with on a regular basis, you are comfortable with them, they have seen your forms, they know how you work, that you go back to them and you give them projects directly.
And so, young early users of LAWCLERK tend to go to the marketplace to find a pool of people they want to work with, but then the people who have been using us for some time, they build a team and they just use our site and go — use our tools to work remotely or virtually with that small group.
Joe Patrice: Wow. So that virtual law firm, that’s a cool idea. And was that a thing that you thought from the beginning this is probably where this is going to go or was that an issue where you just saw kind of naturally crop up that people were starting to do that and decided to build around that?
Greg Garman: Yeah, I wish I can say we saw that coming from the beginning, but we didn’t. When we came up with LAWCLERK we spent a year in development to make sure we had tied up all the ethical rules. We were practicing lawyers so we wanted to make sure that we had done everything to be 50 states compliant.
So we built the product that we thought the market was going to want and then we released it into the wild last February, and the response was great, but we got a lot of important feedback. So sort of the way technology companies do, we took that feedback. We incorporated it into what we called Version 2 that we released over the summer and we thought that really just posting to the marketplace and having people apply to work was how people were going to do it, but evolution is listening to what people and lawyers need and that’s what they said they wanted to make it better.
And so we launched that and it’s really been well received. Like I said, we have people who are building entire business models around it. They post multiple projects a day sometimes, many, many a week. They post them by the dozen a month and they found that instead of having one or two associates who are also general practitioners, who don’t know everything and don’t practice at every level, it’s better to have a small group.
And like Talitha said, it really is kind of a shame in our business that we are producing too many lawyers and that there is kind of an overcapacity of really talented people out there who — this is a tough business. As a father of three, there are a lot of times where I do question what I have given up in the world to run a firm, and there are a lot of talented people who made a decision that their life needed to go in a different direction, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the skills to really advance our profession and modern technology really has made it so that our business is in a position to evolve and evolve quickly for everybody’s benefit.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, it does seem to me as though that kind of, we use both praising and derogatorily, people use the phrase gig economy and there are issues there, but it seems as though there are a lot of folks in the legal profession who choose — perhaps the choice was forced upon them by the last round of layoffs, but now that they have made that choice, I know people who like didn’t choose to become a freelancer, but once they started doing it realized, wait a minute, I can control my schedule, I can find people that I like working with and have really come to embrace it. And tools like this that supercharges their ability to do their job and to maximize what they want out of it.
Talitha Gray: Absolutely. That’s entirely true. And definitely the feedback we have been getting from our — a lot of our users is that this is becoming a career and certainly a preferred choice, irrespective of how they got there as you pointed out.
Greg Garman: So on top of that, Talitha and I have a firm and we have associates here. We kind of run a hybrid firm is the way we call it. We have a physical presence and we have a bunch of people at our office and it looks like a traditional law firm, but we have full-time associates here who work in other states remotely. For one reason or another we knew them or they used to live here and decided they needed to move for family reasons. And so they are full-time employees of our firm and they work remotely.
And then we launched LAWCLERK and realized what else we needed. So we run a hybrid, which is we have some people who work remotely in a more of a traditional fashion. We supplement that with the work that we do with freelancers. And there is always going to be stories of people in any industry in which supply is outpacing demand, we are going to find those stories of people who couldn’t get the job that they are looking for, and we have all read the scary statistics about underemployment and what we do, but they really, really are — our freelancers at LAWCLERK, they certainly span the entire spectrum, but the bulk of them are people who have for one reason or another chosen to do it this way.
And candidly, the economics of being a freelancer can sometimes be in your favor. And by that what I mean is if you are really a specialist and are efficient at what you know, your ability to produce a written product in that area or kind of reuse the research you have done, be up to speed on cutting edge law, you can do it in two or three hours what it might take somebody who is picking it up from scratch 10 or 12 or 15 hours to do.
So we don’t see this, and our experience with our law clerks is that this isn’t a job of last resort; this is predominantly people who have chosen to live this as a lifestyle.
Joe Patrice: Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean I didn’t freelance as an attorney, but I freelanced when I started out in writing, before I landed here permanently. And it’s scary at first, but if you have the sort of personality that is a self-starter, motivated personality, which hopefully most lawyers do, it’s something you can really learn to excel at pretty quickly.
You can manage your time, find a number of projects to keep you busy throughout the day and adjust your schedule around what you need, so that you can get everything done in all phases of your life. It really is somewhat liberating if you know what you are doing.
Greg Garman: And you know Joe, I have heard you talk about this on the show before, but the career path of the lawyer is, you start out as a young lawyer, being a technical writer and being able to research, and then as your career advances, you get to the place where you are managing a case as kind of a junior partner or a senior associate, doing more strategy, and then as your career kind of moves towards its third act, your job is marketing and building a client base and managing those issues.
And the reality is, is that some people don’t necessarily want to move to those second or third phases. Their skill set is technical writing, their skills set is researching, their skill set is putting it together on paper, and the natural arc of a traditional private practice career at a firm is just not really something they want at the end of the day. So there is a lot of that too.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, definitely. So tell us a little bit about how, if I am — well, let’s take these in order, if I am a small firm who wants to start utilizing LAWCLERK, where do I go, what do I need to start doing?
Talitha Gray: So you go to www.lawclerk.legal and the attorney registration process is remarkably quick and easy. It’s simply name, address, law firm. We do have you take a picture with your ID so we can verify that you are an attorney and you are who you say you are so that we protect the site to make sure that it’s attorneys on both sides. But the process to sign up and get an account is very, very quick.
After that you are registered and you can begin posting projects, and again, as attorneys, we know that your time is your most valuable resource so we have again made it as quick and streamlined as possible.
So to post a project, you identify what you need done; I need a memo, I need an agreement, operating agreement, whatever it is. You set your deadlines, so I want an initial draft on Friday, I need a final draft the following Friday. You set your area of law. You provide a general description of the project with no confidential information. It’s pretty much that quick.
That then gets posted to the marketplace. You input your conflict information. That is not shared with anyone until you select a freelancer you want to work with. The freelancers again apply to you, like Greg indicated, so you are reviewing their résumé, writing sample and comments and reviews.
You pick the person you want to work with, and when you do that, they are then prompted to review the conflict list you have inputted, contractually agree to comply with your state’s conflict rules as well as their ethical obligations. We have them sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement. All of that happens very quickly and we give you a communication portal and document repository that’s secure and encrypted, so you can communicate and share documents easily, remotely. And we also give you traditional communication as well, phone number and email, so if you want to do it by any means that is most comfortable for you. But we have really tried to make it as efficient and streamlined as possible.
So again, signing up is probably 90 seconds, posting a project takes less than two minutes, and you can hire a freelancer. I have selected people within minutes of posting a project, depending on the specialization of what you are looking for. So again, very, very easy and the LAWCLERK Care Team is always available as well if there is any questions in the process.
Joe Patrice: Well, now the flip side question. I am about to get my bonus at the end of the year and that will pay off my loans and then I am out of this firm lifestyle. How do I sign up to be in the freelance pool?
Talitha Gray: Same thing, you are going to go to www.lawclerk.legal. Again, there is a registration process; it’s a little bit more extensive in that you have to provide your résumé, you have to provide your writing sample, a little bit more information so that we can verify that you are an attorney in good standing. But again, that process is fairly streamlined and straightforward.
We also have you take the picture with your ID, so again we can confirm that you are who you say you are and again to protect the integrity of the site. But it’s again a fairly straightforward process as well.
Joe Patrice: Great. Well, thanks for joining us. That’s Greg Garman and Talitha Gray from LAWCLERK. If you are a small firm looking for some freelance attorneys or if you are a freelancer yourself looking for some extra projects, whether it’s for your lifestyle or if you are just in between things for a bit, this is a great place to go.
Thanks for coming on the show.
Greg Garman: Joe, thanks so much and keep up the good work. We love the show.
Joe Patrice: Thanks. Well, we will try. It will be better work when we get Elie back, as he is always the linchpin here. And I am saying this now because I am sure he won’t even listen this far, so he will never know that I said something nice.
But if you are listening, as I said earlier, you should be subscribed, you should be doing reviews, all that sort of thing. You should be reading Above the Law, following me @JosephPatrice on Twitter, following Elie @ElieNYC. Listening to the other great shows from the Legal Talk Network, listening to Above the Law’s other podcasts, Book of Business and the Jabot.
And that is everything for now. We will chat again in the very near future. Thanks for listening.
Outro: If you would like more information about what you heard today, please visit legaltalknetwork.com. You can also find us at abovethelaw.com, atlredline.com, iTunes, RSS, Twitter, and Facebook.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network, its officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.