Top 10 tips on how in-house teams can effectively collaborate with a freelance legal consultant or lawyer
As a silver lining to the pandemic, the marketplace for flexible working and freelancing has opened up and expanded. Not unaffected is the realm of legal services. Freelance legal consultants and lawyers have abounded.
As a person looking to hire a freelance consultant or lawyer, you may be wondering how exactly you can effectively collaborate with a freelance legal consultant or lawyer when they are not a full-time member of your team. You may be also wondering if this is a new approach for you to embrace in helping with fluctuations in your legal work. Both questions can feel daunting.
This article was written with you, the hiring manager, in mind. It sets out the top 10 practical tips for avoiding mistakes and mishaps when hiring a freelance consultant or lawyer. It’s based on the actual voice of experience of working inside the freelancer gig economy and brought to you so that you can be more confidently equipped to find the freelance consultant or lawyer to second into your business for a short-term project or to fill a gap in subject matter expertise or to be an extra pair of hands when you are overwhelmed with work.
Top 10 practical tips for effective collaboration with freelancers
Tip 1. Document what you do, do what you document: It’s critical that you discuss your requirements with a flexible consultant or lawyer and scope out your arrangement clearly in an engagement letter. Often people forget about small but, in reality, significant things such as tax inclusive or exclusive fees or carrying over unused time from month to month. So make sure you cover these important little but critical aspects in your engagement letter.
Tip 2. Have a working on holidays policy: How will you handle work that falls on public holidays? Check your calendar and work out these in advance, especially if working across different countries. Do you want the freelance consultant or lawyer to work at the contracted time regardless of whether it falls on a holiday? Will you cancel the hire? Or will you swap out the holiday with another day in the month?
Tip 3. Confirm the number of hours: What number of hours do you need from the freelance consultant or lawyer to accomplish your tasks over longer-term work fluctuations? Will they work at certain fixed times or will the time vary? For example, you may have a big project where you need more of their time and then you may expect to experience quieter periods. Map out the days over the engagement, determine your various time needs according to your workflow and project pipeline, and lock in the time you need to ramp up or offramp accordingly.
Tip 4. Have a “pool of floating time” for urgent matters: How will you handle anything that comes up outside of the core agreed time? I have found that it is always helpful to have a “pool of floating time” where you can call upon the freelance consultant or lawyer to help out if something urgent comes up and you absolutely need their help. This flexibility on top of the already flexible nature of this kind of freelance engagement is really critical for your peace of mind knowing you have a safety net in place. Sorting it out at the front end is miles easier than trying to urgently engage the freelancer at the last minute. They also have other engagements to balance and “freelance” doesn’t mean “at my beck and call” so being on the very same page at the start is key for a smooth and mutually respectful relationship.
Tip 5. Introduce a “3-month pilot”: How will you know if the person is suitable or not? Often this comes up so I recommend that you always should engage a freelance consultant or lawyer on a “3-month pilot”. This gives both of you the ease and comfort to work out over that time if the capabilities and chemistry are there to continue to work together with a longer-term. Before hiring, do your due diligence by checking out their profile on LinkedIn. Is the person active and do they post and publish on legal and industry market trends, that show they are on top of the latest innovations? Do they have a manner and a feel about them that you think makes them sound approachable? How do they comment on other people’s posts? That shows a lot about their attitude, and how you might expect they will treat you and interact with your team!
Tip 6. Check in regularly and track workflow: Set up check-ins and 1:1 meet-ups and construct a tracker for your various workstreams. From experience, a 1:1 touchpoint works best when you are talking with each other over Zoom. Later you can shift to twice monthly and emails in-between check-ins. Also, setting up workstream tracking in a SharePoint or shared Google doc for real-time tracking is invaluable. This means you have an update of work in progress at your fingertips for reporting to your management or supervisors.
Tip 7. Ensure remote engagement: Engage the person via remote access using 2-or-3 step security and with their own email address issued by your company. This helps to identify them as contractor/contingent workers and also folds them into the business team so that there is cohesion (“one team”) especially if that person is included in negotiation emails with your customer or supplier. It also means you can easily track all emails and keep the history of their engagement on your work.
Tip 8. Have them meet your team and key business stakeholders: Introduce them to the team and put a face to the name. This is invaluable. In my case, I go into the hiring company’s office (where safely able to do so) to meet the key business stakeholders in sales, marketing, HR, finance, and procurement and also sit with the team for a day or a couple of half days to chat with and interact with staff. Legal advice and guidance are about people’s interactions. That’s why having your people meet the freelance consultant or lawyer and putting a face to the name, is key to successful engagement.
Tip 9. Confirm what your HR and finance folks need for onboarding: If not done well, this creates a real bottleneck at the time of invoicing. Does the freelance consultant or lawyer have to request your company’s PO number to put on their invoice? If there are currency or admin expenses (for international bank transfers) will you take care of them or will they? Do they need to supply you with identity documents or verify their license to practice, or past client testimonials (if you are not working through an agent or recruiter)? Make a checklist of these items at the time of onboarding.
Tip 10. Give them your Contracts and approvals escalation handbook: Make sure the freelance consultant or lawyer knows what matters are routine, which can be approved by a manager, and what needs to be escalated for sign-off at the management level.
Pulling it all together
Utilizing freelance consultants and lawyers is a great way to ease your pain when your legal workload has an uptick and you are overwhelmed with business as usual work.
Most freelancers choose to be freelance as they seek to work with wellness in mind and work-life integration. They are solid lawyers who are deciding to do law in a different way. You can take advantage of that difference, to flex up and down the work you need, and as a result, you can actually help your own wellness and peace of mind. You can’t obtain that degree of flexibility with “traditional” law firms that tend to have a more rigid setup.
So why not embrace the flexibility of freelance consultants and lawyers to help you have flexibility in your work?