Leading City firms in talks to bring in teams of contract lawyers

Firms in talks to use contract pool; A&O mulls using alumni

Several leading City firms are considering using contract lawyers as part of a venture by a new business to create a vetted pool of temporary lawyers to support major practices.

Firms including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Travers Smith and a number of US firms in London are interested in bringing in contract lawyers for individual pieces of work – a model rarely used in the UK but well-established in the US.

Recruiter John Cullen has held conversations with the firms above, as well as a number of firms in the top 50, about the new service ‘itsmylaw’, which will formally launch in the new year.

He has pulled together a pool of some 25 lawyers, including former general counsel and partners as well as more junior lawyers, who can be hired by for particular deals or cases.

The unusal venture echoes the established US practice of regularly using contract lawyers on specific mandates. The move has also been compared to a virtual law firm, though the focus is on supplying private practice not clients.

The practice of using contract lawyers has never taken off in the UK but City partners suggest there is more interest in the idea now as a result of current tough market conditions.

Travers managing partner Chris Carroll (pictured) said: “We have become very busy and stretched but are cautious about going back into the recruitment market unless and until we feel the uptick has real legs. As such the ‘itsmylaw’ concept presents interesting possibilities for plugging the hole.”

Freshfields London managing partner Tim Jones said: “We are looking at alternative ways to deliver some routine legal tasks, as well as the outsourcing of document reviews, and are actively working with clients to test tailored solutions that deliver an effective and cost-efficient service.”

Cullen added: “Firms are anxious to avoid increasing fixed costs and if there is an option involving high caliber individuals on a one-off cost, it is a sensible alternative.”

In a related move, Allen & Overy is considering creating a central pool of alumni which it would be able to draft in to assist on its work for specific projects. It has already been using alumni to help with work such as producing first drafts of banking documents on an ad hoc basis but is considering formalising and extending the process.

The interest in flexible legal staffing comes against a backdrop of client pressure to increase efficiency.

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