By Bradon Matthews with additional reporting by K. Steiner-Dicks
The legal industry is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for freelance work. But many solicitors that have branched out on their own have been missing out on a vital business strategy: specialisation.
The UK’s Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Standards and Regulations 2019, which came into force from 25 November 2019, have made it easier, and some may argue more cost-effective, to become a freelance solicitor. Or at the very least allows for a certain amount of legal work to be carried out in your own name as an independent solicitor.
According to a poll of 3,000 solicitors, some 413 have chosen to work as freelancers, with a small but growing number of practitioners working for organisations not regulated by the SRA.
There are rules of course to becoming a freelance solicitor and that means limitations. For example, you can’t refer to yourself as a “firm of solicitors” or in all circumstances hold client money in your name.
That said, according to the Compliance Office, if you want to do ‘reserved work’ (e.g. litigation, probate and conveyancing) you must trade and bill in your own name.
“You cannot employ or work with anyone else, even a secretary it seems. Most freelance solicitors will still also need professional indemnity insurance and the usual risk and compliance systems, so savings on cost and bureaucracy may not be worth it for some. However, for other solicitors, such as genuine sole practitioners doing unreserved work, in particular, this is definitely a worthwhile option to consider before proceeding with a law firm or ABS application,” said the Compliance Office.
So, is there a way to ease your way into freelance work? The Compliance Office states that the new rules do permit solicitors working in-house in an organisation to sell ‘unreserved’ legal services to the public (e.g. most aspects of will writing, employment law and general legal advice).
“For certain types of work and organisations with an existing network of leads, this could be a great option. However, if you want to provide reserved legal work with others or simply want the credibility associated with calling yourself a firm of solicitors then setting up a new law firm or alternative business structure (ABS) could be right for you. You can learn about the SRA’s new rules on their website.”
Under the SRA regime freelance solicitors are:
- Prohibited from trading through an LLP or Company
- Must contract trade in their own name with clients;
- Cannot employ anyone else (subject to a limited exception for those who undertake only specified types of work)
- Cannot hold client funds or use a client account
- Must tell clients about their status and the limitations on the protections for clients.
Source: Bennett Briegal
Why should freelance solicitors specialise?
Specialising is important because it differentiates you from your competition.
As a freelance solicitor, you are competing with big firms and other freelance legal and compliance experts. Generalising may mean you appeal to a wider market, but it also means you’re just another name in a sea of options.
By contrast, specialising helps you make a powerful impact on a more select audience. You may have to be a bit more targeted, but your marketing will position you as the perfect fit for people in need of legal help in your area of expertise.
This could mean you’ll have a much greater return on investment on your marketing materials. You’ll become more competitive and convert more leads into paying clients.
How to become a niche player
Specialising in a certain area of law doesn’t always require additional certification. Instead, your area of expertise requires that you are deeply knowledgeable in the area and that you have positive testimonials or case studies to back you up.
Now, those things aren’t just going to appear out of thin air. If you aren’t already specialised in a particular area of law, your first step is to start studying up.
Gaining a thorough understanding of the legal stipulations in the area you plan to focus on will prepare you to take on projects and win those much-needed testimonials.
The length of time you should study will depend on how busy you are with other projects, but as a general rule, more is better. You want to have the best track record possible when you do start taking on projects in that field.
Once you feel prepared, try to take on simple cases and expand from there. This will help you build your testimonials while giving you a practical understanding of the area you want to focus on.
As you build your expertise and experience, becoming a guest writer for publications and news sites targeted to your ideal clients is a cost-effective way to prove your knowledge.
Tips for specialising
If you’re sold on specialising as a freelance solicitor, here are a few things you can do to make yourself even more successful:
- Collaborate with other freelance solicitors or compliance experts in other areas of expertise. This gives you someone to refer out to if you’re not the right fit for a project, helping clients feel cared for while also setting up a network where other solicitors can refer clients to you.
- Consider specialising in areas of law that have growing markets. Some of the best areas to jump into now are cybersecurity, intellectual property, employment, tax, and property and real estate.
These areas are thriving, and demand is expected to increase. Becoming a niche player in one of these fields could help set yourself up for serious small business growth.
For more tips on becoming a freelance solicitor, check out this article by the Compliance Office.