Does career success look like more independent working to you? We've been working with colleagues who work with the Vario scheme, operated by Pinsent Masons, to understand more about what freelancing involves. There are several options you can explore in the Scottish market including Pinsent Masons' Vario Scheme, Frasia Wright's Interim Solutions and working as a Locum through Lawscot Jobs.
Freelancing is a self-employed way of working. Instead of being employed, a freelancer offers their services to a client for a fee, based around the time they will work for the client. A freelancer will typically be remunerated by a daily or hourly rate, depending on the nature of the role they are undertaking.
Freelancing provides flexibility, and freelancers work in a range of patterns. Some complete an equivalent to full-time work, others choose to work solidly for several months then take periods of time off, some work reduced days in a week, whilst some work reduced hours in a day – these hours may fall within the ‘nine to five’ or alternatively, they might choose to work around their individual life commitments.
Freelancers will often find themselves working for one client, however there is a growing pattern of people working simultaneously for several clients, completing smaller pieces of work for all. Geographically, all clients have their own personal preferences as to where the freelancer will be located, but a combination of office and home working is common to see, although it varies from situation to situation.
Clients use freelancing for a vast array of reasons. It may be to cover maternal or paternal leave within their team, to take on extra resource during a permanent budget freeze as sometimes seasonal work, projects or legislative changes can create additional demand and a freelancer can cover these needs, or it might be to bring new skills into the team or to cover a geographic requirement.
Individuals choose to freelance for a range of reasons and you might have enitrely different motivations to someone else. Some examples are:
- to take time off during the course of the year, using this time to travel, run a business, or maybe to study
- expand your experience and exposure by working in different sectors or learning new skills
- work reduced hours or days and use your time to be with the family, or care for a relative
- continue your career as you near the end of your working life, perhaps as part of a phased retirement
- reduce the stress you face, as freelancing can offer a way to complete intellectually stimulating work, without the pressure which a legal career can sometimes bring
- return to work after a career break, as freelancing can help to re-enter the profession after time off.
Freelancing can provide opportunities to gain both excellent in-house or private practice experience, and at all stages of a legal career, whether that be as a paralegal, trainee, or newly-qualified lawyer right through to Partner/General Counsel equivalent and at all levels in between.
Tom is a highly experienced lawyer, who chose to become a freelancer after many years working for one employer. Here's why freelancing worked for him and allowed him to explore new industries and broaden his expertise.
"After 20+ years in the drinks industry I decided it was time to broaden my legal experience and work in other fields. Freelancing is a fantastic path to new industries as assignments are often relatively short term but still long enough to gain knowledge and understanding of the sector. For me, based in Scotland where Financial Services are a big part of the economy, I was really keen to explore this particular opportunity.
I’ve now been with a major international bank for 18 months, working on a high-priority project to create a new ring-fenced bank. I come down to the London head office every other week for a few days — it’s a great balance between staying connected to the people I work with, and not travelling unnecessarily.
When you’ve been in a particular job or industry for a long time, it is good to confirm that your skills and experience are relevant in other roles, and it’s been amazing to see how transferable my experience is. By nature I’m hugely inquisitive (I think it’s a prerequisite of a good lawyer!), and I love figuring out how new companies and new teams work, why they do what they do and how I can help them achieve it. Freelancing works for me because I believe in the value that my experience brings to assignments. You need to be able to see different aspects of a situation, think creatively about a solution and have the confidence to influence new colleagues.
It’s been an interesting change not having to navigate the office politics and being able to focus completely on delivering the work. But I absolutely feel part of the team at the bank — at Christmas, the permanent employees chose to allocate their entertainment budget across all team members, so that freelancers and FTEs could all attend the party! As freelancing becomes a more and more established resource model, there are fewer and fewer barriers to integration."
Uma qualified in 1999 and worked as a permanent employee until 2013, before decided to embark on her career as a freelance lawyer. She now splits her time between Glasgow and Italy, where she owns a house and lives for the majority of the year. Uma now works almost exclusively from home, managing to utilise technology to allow her to operate in exactly the same way as a lawyer based in the office.
"It's still a challenge to make clients understand how I can work remotely and still provide a service they are used to. The concept of a legal consultant working in the way I do (from home in Italy or Scotland) is still somewhat strange to a number of colleagues and clients alike but this perception is changing all the time. The development of technology is how I can now do the work that I do."
With a contract lined up, Keely could have taken the year off to travel, but instead decided to continue developing toward her goal of becoming a lawyer, albeit with plenty of time to enjoy the year ahead leading up her contract commencing by becoming a freelancer.
Keely applied to and was interviewed by Scottish based freelancer organisation, Vario in the spring. After passing the assessment process and joining the Vario bench, Keely became director of her own company and has been working as a Paralegal in the Oil and Gas Sector in Aberdeen. She joined a major oil and gas company UK with a contract set to run until the end of the year, which was subsequently extended. Since starting, she has been involved in a range of activities, primarily managing and running third-party licence transfer work; whilst being the Focal Point for Master Deed, Legal Information Management matters and the Oil and Gas Portal; as well as drafting documents and assisting lawyers with research and contact matters. Keely feels that her time at the company will provide her with a massive advantage when she starts her training contract.
"It’s really given me an incredible level of exposure ahead of my training contract starting. Working within a global business that is at the forefront of development on the UKCS, at such a critical time has been invaluable experience and I feel fortunate to have gained such exposure before I commence my training contract. I’ve been dealing with a real range of people and I am learning a lot from their wealth of knowledge and experience. I feel as if I have gained so much understanding of how the business works, what the priorities are and how a well-managed legal function can have such a significant impact across the organisation. I like the fact that I’m working within one client for such a long period of time; it’s allowing me to see work through to completion. I’ve seen how the work I have been involved with is being applied in real-world situations, which is both extremely rewarding and satisfying.I’ve already been completing some quite stretching work; alongside this I’ve undertaken my master-deed training. I have been fortunate enough to attend a site visit at a gas terminal plant, which has really put the work I do into perspective from beyond a legal perspective. Most importantly of all though has been the business understanding I’ve built up, how companies work and what it is client’s really need and want from a law-firm."
Whilst freelancing might provide a flexible career for some, freelancing isn't for everyone and thinking about whether the particularities of working independently will suit you. It's important to think carefully about how you work, what makes you tick at work and what environments or situations you find challenging. The below list are just a few of the points you might address when analysing your 'fitness to freelance'.
A good freelance organisation will help people understand the level of demand for a particular skillset, in that geographic region and what a rough hourly or day income can be. It's important to know that you will be likely to find work as a contractor.
There will be times where there isn’t work. A level of financial security is important to consider and how will it feel to be off assignment for a couple of months – stressful or blissful!? How will you prepare for them and will you deal with a more unpredictable income?
The more willing people are to be flexible in the type of work they take, where they work, the rates they’ll consider, the more options and choices will be open to them. Are there different options that you would be willing to consider?
There are on-going professional development costs that most freelancers will need to pay during the course of the year. Most freelancers report a highly competitive income overall, but all of those unseen costs need to be factored in
It’s important to maintain professional development, there are many ways to achieve this. Some freelance organisations will be able to help and offer relevant courses.
Some freelance organisations will provide this, others won’t. It's important to check what each freelance organisation offers or know what you will need to do as an individual to make sure you're covered.
Freelancers aren’t employed, so you need to be comfortable with the idea of being slightly separate. Many clients will embrace their freelancer and make them feel part of the team, however there are some situations and / or some organisations where the freelancer will be left out, so it’s worth being ready for that. If you're the sort of person that needs to be surrounded by a team either for social or supportive reasons, you may find the independent nature of freelancing more challenging.
It can be somewhat helpful as a freelancer if you are something of a 'social butterfly'. Working in one client after another means you need to quickly adapt to new people and ways of working, be able to build up connections and know who to turn to for what. The ability to understand the workings of an organisation and how to manoeuvre through it will greatly assist each freelancer
Working as a freelancer is empowering, it provides legal professionals the ability to make more career choices than they may be used to. However you need to make good choices and know yourself. It's useful to have a clear understanding of the type of work that suits you, the sort of organisation that fits and what works for you, so you know what sorts of assignments will realistically be a good fit for all parties involved.