Lawyers as Consultants?

In an article written almost a year ago by Jim Middlemiss entitled “Bill clock no longer ticks in new firm model; No pressure on lawyers’ at Thackray Burgess” (National Post, 27 February 2008), the author described how one 34-lawyer energy law firm in Calgary was doing things differently: by treating lawyers as consultants. Lawyers at Tackray Burgess could pick the number of hours they wanted to work and have the flexibility to set their own schedule. There was no pressure on lawyers to meet billing targets. While this model has not made significant inroads into the traditional hierarchical partnership structure that dominates most law firms in Canada, it is definitely worth looking into because of the benefits it offers to lawyers and clients alike. Cognition LLP (in Toronto) and Delegatus Legal Services Inc. (in Montreal) are two other examples of innovative law firms that have sprung up using the lawyer as consultant model. These firms provide in-house legal counsel on an as-needed basis to their clients. Their lawyers act as independent consultants (with all the tax benefits) and can earn more money by working more hours (and vice-versa). This approach doesn’t work for all types of law – e.g. high-end litigation and specialized areas of law such as tax, competition, patent, etc. But the idea that lawyers can achieve work-life balance (particularly for pregnant women), take advantage of the tax breaks enjoyed by independent contractors, and earn more money by working longer hours than would be possible at a firm (where they don’t get paid for overtime) is definitely a breath of fresh air. Clients too will also relish in this structure. For starters, hourly rates are much lower because the law firms won’t have high overheads. Furthermore, a broader range of clients will be able to afford these more nimble and Dynamic Legal Forms (e.g. a few hours a day for a few days a week/month, etc.). All in all, a win-win situation!

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