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Should NZ be making more use of contractors in the legal market?

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Should NZ be making more use of contractors in the legal market?

​As a whole the legal sector in New Zealand is very limited with the utilisation of contractor roles, primarily only used for parental leave cover. So should the legal sector be more seriously considering how lawyers and legal support staff can be used for contract purposes?

It’s no secret the sector is facing a serious talent shortage, and the contractor market could be an easily accessible and immediate solution for employers and teams with a specific need for additional resource across different areas of law.

If we use the Accounting Sector as an example, contractors are regularly utilised to assist in periods of change, high workloads or to inject a specific set of skills for a fixed period of time. The UK as a larger legal market is more mature in using contractors, with regular use of contractors assisting on cases and junior lawyers assisting with discovery and reviewing large sets of evidence/documents.

We see contracting as a lower risk resourcing model for an employer with fluctuating workloads and future needs or a niche skillset need, providing flexibility to extend or offer a permanent role further down the line. Hesitation from employers in the past has been focused around the time it takes to get a new contractor up to speed, but the opportunity cost of this is the pressure it puts on the team to cover while recruiting for a permanent role, often adding more pressure than inducting a highly skilled and experienced contractor.

Reflecting these examples across the legal sector here at CoLegal we can identify specific areas of law where the sector would really benefit from the emergence of a contractor market.

1. Banking and Finance: A continually challenging area for firms to recruit in, with most of the Lawyers that have relevant experience being based either overseas or in-house where they are paid above market compared to private practice. Contracting could be an avenue to get this talent into a business through higher contracting rates for those fixed periods of time.

2. Resource Management: Quite a talent short area and an especially busy segment of law at present which could utilise a project based contractor model.

3. Corporate: there can be spikes in workload when larger-scale corporate deals are happening. This is an area of law where foreign qualified corporate / M&A lawyers would have a transferable skill set or where contract corporate lawyers could be brought on to assist with due diligence or assisting with the drafting of documents in a transaction.

4. Litigation: when preparing for a big case in the lead up to a hearing, junior litigators could assist on discovery projects.

5. Trusts: in order to deal with the Trust Act changes, bringing on a contract trusts lawyer to deal with those changes and carrying out 'health checks' on existing trusts.

In addition, we can see a set of candidate criteria that would be particularly conducive as a contractor.

1. Senior Lawyers – With vast experience are able to work with a high level of autonomy and come into a role to hit the ground running and assist through a period of high workload.

2. Consultants or retired Lawyers that hold a wealth of expertise and knowledge, and are happy to work on a particular project for a set period of time.

3. Lawyers with a change on the horizon, either looking to move overseas or relocate, so looking for an interim opportunity.

4. A Lawyer who is looking to transition back into the market after a career break or those who are looking for freedom over security.

5. Lawyers with personal situations aligning with contract roles, for example family responsibilities, but have a good skill set to offer for a pre-determined period of time.

Where the Legal sector does have some traction with contractors is within Legal Support. It’s common practice to hire a temp Legal Support role to cover the time lapse to find a permanent employee, deliver immediate support or for parental leave cover. We believe this has been more readily adopted due to the ease in getting temps up to speed compared to delivery Lawyers. But there is an opportunity in the sector to capitalise on this resource model and increase the level of legal support staff during specific projects, for example around change management, AML or other projects causing a temporary spike in work.

If you're an employer looking to fill resourcing needs, have a chat with us about whether a contractor would be worth considering. Likewise, if you're a job seeker and you'd be open to a contract option, we'd be happy to assist you.