This piece originally appeared in Legaltech News.
Over the past decade, the marketplace or talent platform model has reshaped how we live and work—from transportation, food delivery and travel through to engineering, design, consulting and now, legal.
A group of Harvard Business School professors and researchers and Boston Consulting Group consultants recently wrote about this evolution for the Harvard Business Review. "[A] new generation of talent platforms—such as Catalant, InnoCentive, Kaggle, Toptal, and Upwork—has emerged. In contrast to Uber…these platforms offer on-demand access to highly skilled workers," they wrote.
Companies are combating growing talent and workforce issues by strategically engaging these platform providers, according to Joseph Fuller, Manjari Raman, Allison Bailey and Nithya Vaduganathan, by "seeking help with projects that are short- and long-term, tactical and strategic, specialized and general."
The HBR researchers surveyed nearly 700 U.S. businesses that are using highly skilled talent platforms and found that 90% of C-suite leaders "believe these platforms will be core to their ability to compete in the future."
Legal departments, too, can leverage highly skilled talent platforms to effectively tackle labor force challenges and legal workloads.
Legal Talent Platforms
Legal talent platforms, put simply, connect clients to legal service providers (i.e. law firms, solo practitioners, ALSPs and contract attorneys).
The legal industry is experiencing many of the same shifts as those occurring in the broader labor market. Parents and aging workers are seeking flexible working options and many millennials (who will make up half of all lawyers by 2025) have a different vision of their work lives. The pandemic has accelerated these trends and made the prospect of permanent remote work more appealing than ever. All of this has led to a growing supply of talent willing to consider working on a platform model.
Highly skilled talent platforms are a particularly good fit for legal service providers. Legal work is often akin to a consulting service that can be effectively delivered by an individual. And the independent nature of lawyers means that accepting platform work isn't an either/or proposition relative to full time employment.
The HBR researchers noted the reasons why companies are finding skilled talent platforms most useful: labor force flexibility and fast project turnaround. Legal departments stand to benefit from talent models that enable flexibility and quick scaling potential.
How to Develop a Legal Talent Strategy
Despite the increasing popularity of highly skilled talent platforms, according to HBR, many organizations don't yet have an effective strategy for working with them.
"[O]perational frontline leaders who are desperate to get things done have been reaching out to [talent platforms] on an ad hoc basis, often without any central guidance. This approach is costly, inefficient, and opaque," according to the HBR authors.
Here's how leaders in corporate legal departments can avoid reactionary hiring and use legal talent platforms to their full potential:
Assess Skills & Talent Needs. As the economy recovers, legal departments should align staffing according to legal needs rather than traditional employment concepts. HBR terms this "reorganizing work into components," but legal departments may most effectively structure their needs based on dedicated attorney time. Your legal department may determine it needs half of an experienced technology patent attorney and one-quarter of an import/export expert, for example. Legal talent platforms make such combinations feasible, seamless and cost-effective.
Make Platforms Part of the Plan. Part of good legal department planning is to try to foresee potential legal and compliance obligations. But, even when upcoming time sinkholes can't be anticipated, legal departments can have coordination plans in place for how to quickly up-staff when legal needs surpass their in-house or panel firms' capabilities. To avoid engaging with platform providers on an ad hoc basis, establish policies and communication channels for deploying outside talent.
Culture Change. HBR's researchers discuss the cultural hurdles to use of high-skilled talent platforms. One issue is full time worker hesitance about outsourcing tasks because they fear for their jobs. To some extent, legal departments have the benefit of being accustomed to "outsourcing" by engaging outside counsel. But it remains important to communicate clearly about what work will be outsourced and what will remain in-house. Often, legal departments will rely on platforms for a surge in work, specific expertise or a discrete project.
Now that many organizations have established the structures to facilitate effective remote work, use of flexible talent models is poised to become the norm. Legal departments, in particular, stand to realize what HBR called "the revolutionary potential of engaging with the on-demand workforce."