February 2017

Four reasons why hiring project-based lawyers leads to improved work product quality

It’s no secret the legal industry is changing. Alternatives to a regular “9 to 5” include project-based hiring, an employment route the legal landscape is transitioning towards. Below is a hypothetical supported by four reasons why attorneys, both employers and employees, should consider partaking in the project-based world.

Consider this scenario: your firm is reducing overhead costs and the remaining litigation attorneys are already operating at maximum capacity. In lieu of further taxing personnel, you decide to hire for a contract role to handle the workload. Out of the dozens of resumes submitted, five finalists are chosen and by the end of the week, the final candidate is hired for the four-month role. Over the next several months, the project-based hire, Mary, operates with better efficiency in depositions and work product turnaround. You learn she used to work for a reputable M&A litigation firm who regularly expected Mary to turn around assignments within an almost impossible timeframe. “Well, the diligence works for me,” you think - after all, 35% of your litigation cases stem from M&A and Mary operated with better efficiency than half your current staff.

At the conclusion of the four months, Mary continues on to a new venture and you now hold a valuable tool in your back pocket – a reliable resource who has proven positive value to your firm without your firm incurring much cost or risk. Without contractual binding, the risk of poor performance is limited to one project and even then, a reasonable attorney isn’t going to hand-off the most profitable case for a pilot project. So maybe you hire Mary for several of those other M&A cases you have coming up or perhaps you diversify your resources and return back to the other four candidates, “their backstories didn’t align best with the M&A case, but I do have that big healthcare case crossing my desk and the second candidate had extensive Medicare experience…”

Takeaways as to why you should hire a “Mary”:

  1. Reduced risk and eliminated associated costs of a bad hire. This point is significant enough to reiterate, Mary provided positive value to the firm which reduced your risk and relinquished you of any associated costs in the event it were a bad hire.
  2. Project-based and work sample tests have proven better hires. It makes sense two people become better acquainted after working together months on end rather than in a couple of hour-long interviews. There’s a reason companies like Google adopt project-based practices for hiring, it shows a 360° view of how that hire will function in your work atmosphere, particularly interactions with the culture, team/client communication, and overall hustle.1
  3. Better engagement leads to higher quality performance. Project-based lawyers may aspire to be hired full-time or they may prefer to continue with project-based ventures. The former would behaviorally increase mindfulness to detail, in hopes of being hired on permanently. The latter may prefer the freedom of project-based lawyering, which still pays off for the employer’s, “energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.”2 Some project-based lawyers function remotely which grants better control of their schedule. In the long-run, this pays off for the hiring attorneys, at no additional cost to them. After all, most would pass on a discovery strategy formed by Aaron, a full-time employee who pulled an 80 hour week last week and will be in meetings the four hours prior to drafting, and would instead prefer the strategy drafted by Heather, who wrote it after her mid-afternoon workout when she was cognitively alert and engaged in the case details.
  4. Communication and expectations must be set up front, providing better efficiency. It’s no secret a mass percentage of meetings could easily have sufficed as emails and don’t forget the lack of engagement on a conference call, “my volume is on mute, right?” These inefficient business practices won’t suffice with project-based work. Project-based lawyers are operating under an expiration date and actionable steps and expectations must be clearly stated up front. This puts the onus on the hiring attorney to clearly articulate what is needed, and s/he must do so while being cognizant that the contract hire has no experience with your particular office operations. Though it may be more work up-front, it requires the attorney to pay attention to current operations. If it is difficult for the lawyer to articulate the processes to complete the project, then maybe it’s time to re-think the firm’s technology and efficiency tactics. This revelation only occurs after trying to regurgitate complex legal practices to someone without institutional knowledge because a complacency develops once full-time staff become accustomed.

Though the legal industry may be changing, the legal profession will always premise on the steadfast theme of reducing risk and associated costs. The Legal Tech phenomena may be daunting, but employers and employees can dip their toe in by exploring project-based work, all at minimal risk.


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1 https://www.wired.com/2015/04/hire-like-google/
2 Loehr, Jim. The Power of Full Engagement.

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