As Deloitte partner says law firms will soon reach tipping point around flexible working – our CEO Chris Setford argues the best ones are already there

Only 42% of law graduates aspire to be partners in law firms – a shocking statistic but a telling one revealed today by Peter Saunders, a partner at accountancy firm Deloitte.

Mr Saunders was speaking at the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, attended by my business partner Guy Setford. Mr Saunders told conference delegates that attitudes amongst the next generation are changing and the smart use of technology and a flexible workforce will be the model on which successful future law firms are based.

Mr Saunders even drew comparisions with advertising and media sectors “that has moved almost exclusively to a freelance model where you draw on your pool of people to deliver projects and then they are off.”

Mr Saunders is right – kind of. It is certainly true, based on our experience, that freelance lawyers (for “freelance” see “consultant”) can indeed build a successful career and benefit greatly from the freedom that being “freelance” allows: greater financial rewards, flexibility, and being in charge of their own destiny.

But the use of the word freelance can also be misleading. In most professions freelancers are completely independent of the firms for whom they work and lose out on many things such as feeling part of a working community, or benefiting from the great support that a staff person enjoys.

That is not how being a consultant lawyer has to be, and certainly isn’t how we run things at Setfords. At our firm, whilst you are indeed a self-employed consultant and can enjoy the greater freedom and greater financial reward being independent offers, you can also enjoy unparalleled support from the biggest support team in the consultant industry. And as for being part of a community – our 180+ team of lawyers are constantly communicating with each other, offering advice, support, or work to each other, not to mention meeting at functions designed to foster relationships.

We are regularly approached by millennials about the Setfords way of working and the consultant model, but this revolution has already begun. We already have nearly 200 lawyers working in this way, earning more money than they’ve ever earned and enjoying a greater work-life balance, whilst having a greater control over their careers. And whilst Mr Saunders is absolutely right to say technology and a flexible workforce are the future, he should note that they are also the present.

I would argue the best firms have already reached a “tipping point” and are already making the best use of technology and flexible working practices to create happier lawyers and therefore happier clients.

But technology isn’t enough – any law firm considering this way of working, and any lawyer considering taking the leap – must put support front and centre. A lawyer cannot do their best work without the right team behind them. Which is why here at Setfords we have invested millions in creating a central team that covers all areas from compliance and secretarial to marketing, PR and business development.

Once more firms get the business model right and understand what’s really required to make agile working work, my guess is the number of law graduates aspiring to be partners won’t even be at 42%, it’ll be closer to 2%!

Chris Setford
CEO, Setfords Solicitors

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