The gig economy is upon us; there is no turning back now. As defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, the gig economy is “a way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer.”
Think about how many times per day we interact with gig economy workers: they drive us, deliver our food, shop for us, walk our dogs and care for our children. We stay at their homes, rent their cars and maybe even use their washing machines (truly).
The Gig Economy Future
We have all read articles that the gig economy is predicted to be our future. Why is that? There are two main reasons: millennials and baby boomers, two groups that are not often put together. As baby boomers start to retire in record numbers, some might want to work, but not full-time or in a traditional way. Likewise, millennials are not seeking the same types of jobs that baby boomers were looking for when they started their careers. To some extent, millennials actually prefer the gig economy.
A 2018 NPR/Marist poll found that one in five American workers are contract workers, hired to work on a specific project or for a fixed period of time. Sixty-six percent of part-time workers prefer that kind of schedule.
The Gig Economy in Law Firms
The gig economy has also spread to law firms. Many jobs can be completely performed remotely, with the worker living in the location of their choice, which appeals to millennials’ preferences. This allows the organization to tap into the best talent, regardless of where they are. And contract attorneys have taken over a number of traditional functions. These days, many contract attorneys work for alternative legal service providers, and their role is no longer confined to document review.
Even some of the latest legal technology and products act almost like gig workers because of their scalability and ability to take over traditional employee functions. The automation of various processes like e-Discovery, contract tracking and now even drafting. Technology allows law firms to leverage contract workers and/or invest in technology, both of which can be utilized on an “as needed” basis.
Gig Work in Law Firm Information Departments
Law firm information departments can stay on top of this workplace revolution by continuing to look for ways to leverage alternative staffing models. Law firm information departments have been at the forefront of the gig economy through the utilization of contract filers, catalogers or invoice processors, for example. It is important that we now start to examine how that gig concept is going to grow and change and start to plan for this change, especially as law firms continue to innovate.
As law firms start to explore an alternative workforce, support services must also be available in an alternative manner. Night and weekend research support will no longer be the exception, but the norm. Volume will grow, but the ability to hire traditional support may be limited. Taking steps now to explore and offer expanded service will keep information services at the forefront of this revolution.
HBR’s Research on Demand service is one example of an alternative staffing model for law firm information departments. Our team of experienced law librarians and attorneys are ready to fill gaps and meet workload needs without adding additional headcount. For information about Research on Demand, please feel free to contact me or any other member of our team.