The Patchwork Lawyer

You may or may not have heard the term patchwork lawyers yet, but what exactly is a patchwork lawyer and is why would you choose to work as one?

If you were to ask someone from thirty years ago what a patchwork career was, they would probably look at you very blankly. In fact, if you asked someone today, I think you'd still get a blank face from most people. Something to do with upholstery? Guess again.

But if you were to ask the question thirty years from now, I'm confident that people would know exactly what you meant. It might have a different name – a jigsaw career or a jumble career, but in principle it's a freelance career path where you choose to work simultaneously for several employers. The often talked about gig economy is a step toward this model. That typically features people completing short term assignments for an employer before moving on. It's been a proven model in many industries for years now and we know that it’s a viable and attractive career path for legal professionals these days too. After all it's what Vario is all about!

The Dawn of the Patchwork Lawyer

Will we ever see 'patchwork lawyers' though? What would it look like? Might we see self-employed lawyers completing a few hours of work for one company in the morning, a couple for another in the afternoon and a final piece of work that evening after the kids are in bed for a third? Why not?

The next question might be 'why would lawyers want to work like this?' I would hazard a guess that it's much the same reasons that people currently freelance, just taken a step further; increased flexibility to live life however people see fit. The ability to pick and choose on a daily basis what you do that day, will not be right for everyone. For example, there will be days where there is no work. However, for some, it will be a perfect match of their work and life coming together.

In terms of who would work as a patchwork lawyer, I don't think there's a specific person. In Vario, we've identified eight personas of the type of lawyer that freelance; I think each of these could easily transfer into being a patchwork lawyer: the entrepreneur, the working parent, the multi-potentialite, the senior lawyer looking to give something back or the junior lawyer ready to step off the treadmill. Each of these could be a patchwork lawyer. I would suggest that there are a few attributes needed though to make it in a patchwork career:

  • Connections and networking – To supply enough work, it'll be important to have contacts and links into a range of organisations. That ability to drive your own business will be crucial.
  • Discipline – There will no doubt be a wealth of temptations when planning a day. Walk the dog, nip to the shops, head to the gym, watch just one more episode of your favourite Netflix programme; the focus required to work a sensible amount of hours will be critical to ensure the mortgage gets paid at the end of the month!
  • Changing direction – In addition to multitasking and prioritising skill which are important, I think that ability to switch focus from one client to another is even more essential; or maybe even complete further training, if industry changes are swinging toward a different path than yours.

When will we see the patchwork lawyer?

The answer is now. In fact, we already have lawyers within Vario successfully operating in this very way. Ruth, one of our Varios who you can watch in our Vario stories lives in Italy, but completes small pieces of work for Pinsent Masons, as well as other organisations. She might work a couple of hours for us in the morning one day, then an afternoon for us the following. Not only that, but clients are talking to us and interested in this way of working. For relatively transactional work, there is a growing demand in this space and it's a trend that I envisage will continue.

So the next time you hear about a patchwork career, maybe you'll answer with conviction as you talk about its viability as an attractive career option. You may even find yourself or others you know working in this manner in the very near future.