The gig economy is growing and shows no signs of slowing down. Presently, close to 36 percent of the workforce engages in a variety of gig work and two-thirds of major companies use freelance contractors to reduce costs. Gig work is a huge economic driver. More than 50 million Americans who work as freelancers contribute more than $700 billion to our national economy, helping U.S. businesses compete and provide the services their customers need.
Bolstered by consistent, steady growth in recent years, 2019 research from Mastercard and Kaiser Associates forecast the global gig economy will continue to expand and hit double-digit annual growth within the next five years. This growth is fueled by factors including “evolving societal attitudes around P2P sharing and increasing digitization rates in developing countries.” Further, by 2030, gig professionals are expected to encompass as much as 80 percent of the workforce.
The future of the gig economy was promising before the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be critical for industries, including the legal sector, as the nation aims for economic stabilization. Increased adoption of technology in the legal industry has powered the emergence of the legal gig economy and made it easier for professional process servers, attorneys, government agencies and other professionals to continue operations and make the most of a distributed workforce.
As legal practices resume and economic recovery begins, it will be critical for legal professionals to understand how they can leverage technology-powered gig roles to improve their services, start their own entrepreneurial ventures or work in contract capacities.
History of Gig Roles and Labor Regulations
While gig roles are growing in the legal sector, it is important to understand the history of the gig economy and labor regulations that have notably shaped the food service and transportation sectors.
Labor regulations vary by state and can impact how the gig workforce classifies their employment. In California, for example, state legislation’s impact on the gig economy began with a landmark case that reached the California Supreme Court in 2018 (Dynamex Operations West, Inc. vs. The Superior Court of Los Angeles). The ruling was unanimous, adopting a new “ABC test” to classify worker status and determine if a professional could be classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee. Following the decision, California presented the “California Assembly Bill 5” (AB5), popularly known as the “gig worker bill.” This bill expands on the ABC test ruling and requires companies that hire independent contractors to reclassify them as employees, with some exemptions. The ABC test and AB5 are rigorous for employers and impact a broad range of professionals working in the state.
This history is important to the gig economy at large because it impacts how gig professionals access work, particularly as the U.S. economy and employment market attempt to stabilize.
For example, notable players in the gig transportation sector, Lyft and Uber announced they would have to suspend operations in California unless the courts intervened on AB5 ruling – which they did on August 20, 2020, saving thousands of gig workers from immediately losing a significant source of income.
Uber and Lyft are continuing to appeal this ruling; however, some gig professions in a variety of industries have had success in winning exemptions to AB5. In the legal sector, these exemptions include attorneys, but left process servers with uncertainty. Process service in California is a profession where a limited, registered workforce supports courts to ensure proper notice of legal proceedings. The increased adoption of legal technologies that enable the presence of gig professionals will create more opportunities for independent contractors to go into business for themselves and will help law firms and legal departments provide services.
The Rise of Legal Gig Roles
The rise of the legal gig economy is led by technology companies pioneering industry specific gig roles that improve the efficiency of procedures and increase access to legal services. Several legal procedures that are most conducive to thrive in the gig economy include service of process, e-filing, messenger service, alternative service and appearance counsel.
Process servers are professionals who have helped drive the latest gig economy surge in the legal industry. Cloud-based solutions and legal process automation technology have made it possible for these professionals to fulfill the role of process servers for a source of income.
With appearance counsel, for example, legal practitioners and appearance attorneys can step in to represent large companies, banks and other law firms who need a lawyer to appear in court for them. They foster relationships built on the ability to serve unique, specific needs in a professional and regulated format. These companies often need representation in multiple jurisdictions, which makes traditional single-attorney representation more difficult. Fulfilling the role of an attorney, in a gig or contract format, helps overcome this obstacle by creating the opportunity to fill unique positions and deliver legal services to a broader range of individuals.
The availability of legal professionals in the gig economy not only helps individuals sustain their livelihood; it increases global access to critical legal services.
Benefits of a Distributed Workforce
There are several notable benefits that follow embracing a distributed workforce in the legal sector. For example, collaboration with gig workers allows law firms and corporate legal departments to reduce overhead costs and streamline their procedures, such as serving documents or appearance counsel situations.
Further, the adoption of SaaS platforms that are powering the distributed workforce provides enhanced efficiency to legal services that can be completed by anyone around the world. Although the gig approach does not work for every law firm, it can be a valuable and much-needed arrangement for others. By tapping into the gig economy and learning more about embracing a distributed workforce, much of the legal field stands to gain through the availability of more jobs and convenient access to legal services. Below are five leading benefits that are driving the rise of gig workers in the legal sector.
- Enhanced efficiency – With gig workers in every time zone creating their own schedules, the legal sector maximizes service rates faster. In the case of joining forces with distributed process servers, legal documents can be served more quickly and widely across the world, saving time and increasing productivity for all parties involved.
- Ensured quality – Gig workers are pre-screened and licensed with state mandated regulations to ensure tasks are handled in a professional and compliant manner. Automated technologies that help pre-screen and certify process servers ensure that when individuals request services, they will be paired with someone who is licensed, experienced, trained and equipped with the latest legal technology.
- Added transparency – By using technology and emerging platforms, legal professionals who collaborate with gig workers get notifications, real-time updates and skip-tracing/predictive scoring that keeps them informed about the status of their documents. Not only does this increase transparency for end users such as paralegals that need legal support, it helps partner lawyers stay informed about their clients’ cases.
- New flexibility – With tasks being handled electronically and via cloud-based solutions, legal professionals can have documents and support handled anywhere with an internet connection. Additionally, gig workers have increased control and flexibility over their schedules and the cases they take on. Gig workers represent an increasingly diverse population of the workforce; agile legal technology makes this possible and gives more individuals the opportunity to work anywhere and anytime.
- Increased scalability – Another benefit of cloud-based solutions is the ability to scale up or down based on current and future needs. Similarly, law firms can scale the support they need from gig workers up or down based on their office size and caseload. As referenced above, gig workers also have the flexibility and can scale their workloads up or down as they need.
The Future of Gig Work for the Legal Sector
Making the most of the flexibility and accessibility offered by gig roles will help the legal industry navigate the changing workforce. As companies continue to partner with gig workers to improve the quality of remote service, the legal profession will leverage automated technologies to make it easier for customers and end users to access legal services. Additionally, without a middleman there is a cost-saving advantage for the end customer with greater accuracy and improved overall efficiency of service.
With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic leaving an uncertain future, one guarantee is the legal industry will see continued shifts toward remote and virtual operations, with remote and gig workers becoming more commonplace. Law firms, banks and corporate legal departments that move in this direction will help increase widespread adoption of technology throughout the industry. With these emerging tools, legal professionals will enjoy the myriad benefits that the gig economy can offer while assuring their operations are sustained regardless of the economic climate.