Lawyers are, in general, an expensive and specialised resource. What that means is they have a narrow focus of expertise which is in relatively high demand. This has always posed a question for businesses – especially those with in-house legal functions: when in need do you have your own internal capability or do you go to a law firm? (See Rian’s earlier article on the issue here)
Jackie Donner, chief executive of LawFlex, believes the traditional model is broken. As a pioneer of one of the first global flexible legal service companies, Donner says the economic model of the traditional law firm does not encourage efficiency and value. This is why she thought LawFlex could fill a gap. And indeed, flexible legal resourcing companies are doing just that and demonstrating this value to their clients.
“Like in Israel, Africa can benefit from flexible legal resourcing, not only through cheaper labour costs, but also by offering legal services to global clients seeking African expertise,” she says.
“Flexible legal resource companies have been popping up all over the globe, as a lawyer-on-demand service. Some work as market-places, facilitating legal transactions, while others provide an expert in a subject from a pool of lawyers. However, both represent a new operating model and a choice for the consumer away from the traditional law firm.”
Donner says the selling feature of a flexible legal resource company is that it provides expertise on demand and works best alongside the traditional model. “This can help organisations supplement their legal functions with expertise when required, without being subjected to the “billable hour” of a law firm.” The availability of this flexibility has also resulted in an alternative staffing model for in-house functions.
“Flexible legal resourcing leverages the advantage of technology and provides remote working in secure environments,” she adds. “This increases your legal network and allows organisations access to the right talent from all over the globe. It is this agility that provides access to the right expertise, which is seen as a competitive advantage over the traditional law firm.”
Another major benefit of flexible legal resourcing is cost reduction. Donner says flexible legal resource companies are able to drastically reduce the overheads of the lawyer and the firm which, in some instances, may translate to as much as a 50% saving when compared to the traditional model.
The African market has already seen a number of these legal marketplace/flexible resourcing companies. Most recently, Lawbasket, from Zimbabwe, was one of the Hiil grant winners for innovation in legal services.
So, not only is flexible legal resourcing an alternative option for in-house legal functions but it can, as a result, serve as an alternative employment stream and business opportunity for African lawyers.
Donner has some sage advice for African lawyers looking at starting a flexible legal resourcing company. “It is important to remember, it is not only about pricing. Flexible legal resourcing is not about cheap lawyers, but about high quality lawyers that work on a flexible basis.” For this, she has learned the importance and need to vet lawyers coming onto her team and not just matching them in terms of a marketplace need.
Flexible legal resourcing can serve as an important innovation in the legal environment in Africa. The more access to lawyers that Africans enjoy, access which is driven by real value, should in turn afford more access to justice.
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