Traditional, full-time, in-house law firm associates have high overhead costs directly tied to them like office space, leases associated with those spaces, and even office supplies. While paying those costs makes sense when a lot of legal work is coming in and the associates are working at 100% capacity, the downside is that law firm work is cyclical in nature. This means firms have to pay close attention to overhead to sustain profit margins. There are several ways your practice can save on overhead by working with remote associates throughout the year.
Rethink Your Actual Office Space
First, consider where you actually conduct business. The traditional range of office space costs for a law firm is somewhere around 8% to 15% of gross revenue. It’s easy for lawyers to fall into the trap of thinking they need to spend at the higher end of that range just to impress their clients — stereotypical fancy conference tables inside glass conference rooms are easy to take for granted as something clients just expect to see when they visit your workspace. These are definitely nice to have and we all know the value of good window dressing in attracting new business.
However, there are a few drawbacks to this thinking.
For one, clients aren’t as tied into those things as they were before the entire world changed in 2020. There has been an entire mind shift on the value of aesthetics when it comes to getting work done in just about any industry. In the legal field especially, clients have no problem saying (jokingly or otherwise) that “Oh, so this is what my money is paying for!” So, skipping the more ostentatious office suites can project the image of being lean and less “wasteful.” Now, more than in previous decades, your physical office space can deliver less bells and whistles as face-to-face contact has waned.
Additionally, even though the pandemic has seriously changed how many law firms operate, they’re still thriving. We’re doing so even without having many in-person interactions with clients. Invariably, work has still gone on, and increased for many as clients and lawyers alike have embraced remote work.
Just take a look at recent trends. Specifically, the 2021 Clio Legal Trends Report found that in 2018 only 23% of clients were open to working remotely with their lawyer. That’s a very small percentage of potential billable hours. In contrast, by 2021 that number grew to 79% of clients who want remote meeting options with their lawyer such as meeting via video conferencing rather than face to face in a bricks and mortar office. We’re talking about over a 50% shift in these metrics in a very short amount of time.
Office spaces have become largely places for employees to work, without the need to impress clients with much more than a respectable Zoom background. Impressive furniture has become a moot point, and that may well continue into the future as a new normal now that many law firms have adjusted to this with agility. In fact, many firm leaders have down sized physical office space to take advantage of cost savings and switched to a hoteling system of open desks for those employees who want to come into the office from time to time. This type of flexible work environment is often viewed as a valuable perk in attracting talent and offering a better work-life balance.
Inevitably the work of most law firms will ebb and flow. One of the greatest lessons underscored for all of us during the pandemic is to be flexible and prepared for just about anything. Still, when you have traditional, full-time associates, you will have to pay them even if there isn’t any work for them. If work isn’t available for them to do, cash flow isn’t coming in, either.
The 2020 Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition report found that 84.4% of surveyed law firms reported having chronically under-performing lawyers. Further, the report found that in nearly a quarter of all law firms, more than 10% of lawyers were considered to be under-performers. Yet, those lawyers are still getting paid their salary every two weeks. If you are trying to lower overhead at your firm, keeping on chronic under performers can wreak havoc on your bottom line.
Hire On-Demand Freelance Remote Associates
Now, since most law firms have signed leases that are not very easy to renegotiate, especially since commercial real estate agents are trying to navigate the new world of virtual office locations, it’s likely going to take a bit of time to relocate your office space.
This is where LAWCLERK, comes in. Unlike full-time associates, on-demand freelance remote associates don’t have fixed overhead costs tied to them (i.e., salary, office space and benefits), and you only pay them when you need help and they’re actually doing work. This is the case whether they’re commuting or remote workers located in a home office.
Contracting with on demand remote associates creates flexible staffing as your needs increase, without the commitment of supporting the same number of staff when needs decrease. Doesn’t that sound like a win-win?
How can you flexibly power your law firm with remote associates? There are two primary ways to integrate these team members into your practice management.
Staffing Your Law Firm With Project Based Associates
First, you can opt for project based work to get extra help from time to time when you need it. When you register with LAWCLERK and post a Project, you agree to a flat fee price for that piece of work. You set the fee and that’s all you pay. Plus, there are no monthly fees for our service.
Talented freelancers apply and you’re able to review their credentials and select the top applicant. Keep in mind that the freelance lawyers at LAWCLERK come from every imaginable background and expertise in the legal profession. Some are former big law attorneys. Others are solo attorneys that turn to freelancing when their own work slows down. One thing they have in common is their dedication to doing excellent legal work and very intentionally choosing to freelance for various personal life reasons.
Project based work is the perfect way to leverage the talent of freelance lawyers in certain areas of law when you need that expertise in real-time. Keep in mind, LAWCLERK can match your project needs with remote associates from a wide range of practice areas covering anything from intellectual property, bankruptcy, immigration law, and everything in between.
Remote Associate Subscription Program
The other flexible way to staff your firm is via LAWCLERK’s Remote Associate Subscription Program. The subscription program allows you to get anywhere from 30 to 160 (or more) hours of help every four weeks via a dedicated remote associate.
There are various levels of hourly rates depending on the freelancer’s experience. You can have one or more remote associates via the subscription program. Plus, you can easily flex the hours up or down depending on the fluctuations of your workflow. There are no long-term contracts to help you get exactly the help you need, when you need it.
Since a law firm’s overhead costs are disproportionately employees and office space, those are the areas you should prioritize and focus on getting right when evaluating your recurring costs. We know this is the case whether you’re a small firm in the Midwest or a large one in New York City.
Try our legal outsourcing calculator and get an estimate of your profit using a remote associate here.
Better Management of Associate Recruiting Cost
Recruiter or employment agency fees can add up quickly. Especially if you’re having a difficult time finding the best candidate for your law firm. Even if you are a small operation and opt to manage recruiting in-house, you should factor in the costs of posting the job as well as the time involved in reviewing applications, conducting interviews and doing reference and background checks if you decide to navigate the hiring process yourself.
In contrast, when you team up with LAWCLERK to find flexible staffing options for your firm we do the heavy lifting for you. We pre-vet all applications for our remote associate subscription opportunities saving you many hours of valuable time. We also provide a number of resources at the click of a mouse to help you review and find the talent you need quickly.
Another benefit of working with LAWCLERK that adds up to real savings is we take care of the administrative work and tax reporting. Also, at the end of the year, we’ll issue the 1099s to your remote employees for you.
So, just to recap, the legal industry has evolved past the days of being limited to the old standards of pricey overhead costs to operate a traditional, bricks and mortar law firm. More and more sophisticated lawyers are turning to remote employees and flexible workspaces to better meet their clients’ needs. With just a little creativity you can make financial adjustments to reduce the drain of a physical office space and recruiting full time employees. Even better, using remote associates can quickly deliver value on a project or subscription program basis.
Note: For more information on how LAWCLERK works, see our FAQ page.