Reforming the Gig Economy

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From fine food, travel and accommodation through to taxis, disruptive technology and services are changing our patterns of consumption.  Traditional career routes are vanishing with them, to be replaced by “the gig economy”.    Artificial intelligence, distance and flexible working are going to revolutionise the legal market, and only the fleet of foot will be employment when the dust settles.

Tlam wants to innovate in this space. The gig economy holds huge opportunities not only for law firms, but for aspiring lawyers who seek to learn the trade properly before making their mark.  So far, the winners have been businesses which settle the age old dilemma of how to find trustworthy counterparties for what may be short term engagements.  Uber and Amazon have cracked the problem of trust with their star rating schemes.   Tlam aims to do the same for legal employment, creating the Commercial Awareness in Practice (CAP) programme that we think you should be part of. Here is the explanation of why.

Uber and Amazon have received much criticism for their business models, most notably for their flaky definition of employment.  As a result they face class action law suits across the globe.  NYU Business School Professor, Arun Sundararajan, wrote recently in the Guardian on how these new business models which seem to offer greater freedom for employees, also widen the opportunity for a privileged few to exploit the rest.

Meanwhile, the paralegal labour market has been part of the gig economy for many years. Law grads may spend years as a paralegal between different firms.  Many are paid a pittance.  Only the lucky few make the transition from paralegal to trainee.  Even at the best it is a waiting game, with little in the way of either income or hope to show for years of study.

There has been some good reform; steps such as new professional institutes and reinvigorated training pathways. There are some great organisations serving paralegals which have helped budding lawyers find their feet in the profession. However, the market factors driving the legal gig economy present many threats as well as opportunities for young lawyers. Legal services are becoming more commoditised. The ease of accessing good information on legal services is getting cheaper and the competition in areas such as property, immigration, contract drafting and now even litigation (with apps such as Apperio and new court mechanisms like Precedent H) are putting downward pressure on legal fees. This puts pressure on profits and thus costs, giving solicitors less money to spend on meaningful training and employment at graduate entry.

The margins in current business practices are not good enough and frankly, the outcome has been a regime of low pay, insecurity and the absence of training opportunities.  And clearly,  gig economic behaviour amongst firms is likely to expand.  But legal services are a great deal more complex than taxi rides or discount clothing.  In a legal market characterised by oversupply, the firms which win in the future will be those that win the public’s trust.  And that is true as much of those they employ.  Scaling up at short notice presents the problem of how to ensure they are hiring a competent legal mind with a good fit for the job.  Employment agencies abound, but typically they charge a fortune, add no value and make little effort to achieve a proper match.  And when a law firm needs an extra brain for a juicy case, AI will crunch volume but never sort the finer points.

There is a strong demand for solicitors with very strong legal and marketing skills in mid-size firms.  As the partners turn to recruitment agencies to find staff, the labour market becomes increasingly dynamic and salaries climb.  There is little incentive to train your own from the start as they better a training firm does the more mobile the trainee becomes on qualification.  The larger firms are winners in this market.  The badges of all the magic circle firms are on most of the Russell group law societies.  Student law society presidents promise to do more for students interested in non-corporate law, but it is a difficult task to achieve.  There are many small to mid-size firms doing a fascinating range of work from alternative investments, corporate and international trade to civil litigation and family.  These are great places to work.  With that considered, how then do you break through?

Finding opportunities in the gig economy.

In 2016 there was a record number of legal start-ups globally with many receiving authorisation form the SRA.  Thanks to new disruptive technologies and business models, some law firms will grow exponentially.  It currently appears that they may be advancing on some of the market share previously held by the top 100.  These are the firms that shun the trainee market and struggle with finding and keeping talented assistant solicitors.  Our aim is to bring top quality experience to these firms.

So far all the running has been made by graduates with starry academic records.  Our experience in the field tells us there is an appetite for qualities and skill sets which are sometimes harder to spot – computer programming, business management and financial literacy.  A tenacious approach can be rewarded by acquiring a CV that transforms a graduate into a super employable training contract applicant.

What Tlam are doing about it

Tlam has been in the outsourcing business for 8 years serving law firms up and down the country.  We have got to know the innermost thoughts of law firm partners on how to survive the turbulence of the law market.  We can see their desperate need for support that is “office ready”, realistic, disciplined and determined to make a difference.  Meanwhile, our own recruitment efforts have clearly demonstrated the availability of talent in the huge pool of law finalists.  The challenge for everyone is to achieve a match truly based on merit.  We can see how important it is that hiring is based on a true assessment of a candidate’s ability and experience.

The model we have been piloting is equip a team of paralegals with lateral skill sets such as financial management, computer programming, data architecture and market intelligence.  Some of this is done in our own practice, building and maintaining the financial architecture for these firms.  Some comes from a host of recently retired senior solicitors who have valuable mentoring to offer.

A two speed programme: The Tlam Grad Scheme

We are therefore introducing a two speed grad scheme. One is the enterprise programme centred around our offices in Gloucestershire and London where candidates can combine  legal placements and financial management. The other is our affiliates programme, which is solely focused on legal experience.

The way we attract the very best minds to our two schemes is the work we put into to get our people settled with a law firm training contract .  The way we achieve this is by offering exposure to things that are not found in a conventional vacation scheme, from boutique solicitors’ firms through notaries to innovative projects.  We will also be offering a new internship for 2017, providing basic paralegal and financial management skills prior to placement.

Graduates who work with us know they will have a real advantage in the legal labour market.  Employers know they can trust us to select and deliver the very best support for whatever task they have.

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