The nomadic life is the one for Elizabeth Weir.
Lawyers On Demand was designed specifically with me in mind… or so I have felt since I first heard about it over a glass of wine in the summer of 2009.
In early 2006, I had jacked in my job as a partner in the London office of a US law firm. Although I had thought of it at the time as “taking a few months off over the summer”, I had also been realistic enough to realise that, in taking this step, I would probably be jettisoning my career. After all, it wouldn’t be easy to go into another firm at a moderately senior level after any kind of prolonged break. But, at that point, what I would do after my “few months off” was a question I buried firmly in the sand, and caught a flight to Africa.
By the time I first sat down with Jonathan [Brenner, LOD Co-Founder] in February 2010, I’d been to 26 countries across five continents. I’d worked extensively on a project researching desert dwelling elephants in north-western Namibia, learning to identify the different individuals of the 50+ research group and getting my hands deep into a very different sort of sh*t from that involved in the City’s daily grind. Skills acquired drafting contracts had been adapted to proofreading scientific papers. I’d watched junior Adélie penguins patiently waiting to fledge, elephant seals grumpily moulting, and minke whales dive under the ice shelf on which I was standing. I’d crossed the Gobi desert and the Tibetan plateau; gazed at the finally-revealed peak of Everest and flown into Antarctica’s dry valleys. I’d been heart-wrenched at the genocide memorials in Rwanda and Cambodia, and crossed into the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see a little of this tragic nation for myself. I’d trekked trails only used by yak herdsmen in Bhutan, and fallen in love with the country’s wonderful blend of history, religion and legend. I’d filled one 48-page passport and started another. In one twelve-month period, I had spent only five weeks in the UK.
It certainly wasn’t over yet. It was just that I was beginning to realise that the coffers could probably do with topping up in the not-too-distant future. And so I met with Jonathan and, a few weeks’ later, Simon [Harper, LOD Co-Founder]. For me, LOD seemed extraordinary: it’s a dazzling win for everyone – the LOD lawyers, the LOD clients and LOD HQ – and it’s such a blindingly obvious business model, it seemed crazy that no-one had thought of it – or for long enough to make it work – before 2007. I was enchanted: here was a way in which I could work when I wanted, earning decent wonga, and still be able to travel in almost the same way as I had now become accustomed. Many people talk about the chance to continue the intellectual challenge, the thrill of the deals and the quality of the experience. For me, although these things are certainly the icing on the cake, in its essence it is even simpler. Encountering some suspicion early on about my erstwhile seniority, my by-line became, “I’ll count paperclips if someone’ll pay me.” After all, I had had the partner T-shirt, and had done my time in late-night negotiations with IT suppliers in yet another debate about liability. Now I would just be happy to be able to pay for the next trip.
And so it has turned out (with the added benefit that I haven’t even had to resort to counting paperclips yet!).
That summer, I joined a team of LOD lawyers all working remotely reviewing documentation in preparation for the defence and counterclaim in an insurance fraud case being run by BLP’s Dispute Resolution team.
At Christmas, I was at Edinburgh Airport when I was telephoned by Carly [Van-Eetveldt, LOD Assistant Director] asking if I was free to do 12 days’ work preparing contract documentation for an IT infrastructure transformation/managed service outsourcing. I wasn’t even officially free for work, being back in the country for only five weeks between an escape-the-autumn sojourn in Australia and a foray into Central America, but my festive plans were low key and easily accommodated my working from home… and the travel piggybank swelled as a result.
The following year, back from Central America as well as a return trip to Bhutan and India, I settled into three months’ work on precedents for BLP’s Commercial Group, this time on the understanding that the third month would be spent in Australia’s Outback. My law-firm colleagues were enchanted: on our weekly calls, the first question was always, “How are the kangaroos?”
Interesting places, interesting interviews
It’s not only work that I’ve managed to do from some interesting places – Namibia, Turkey and Tajikistan, to name a few others – but also interviews for new assignments. Thanks to Skype, I interviewed for a private practice role from Bogotá, slightly to the bemusement of those on the call who had never before conducted an interview by telephone, never mind over the internet and with such a destination. But technology held up, to my relief.
I was in the Outback when a potential inhouse role with Direct Line came up in 2013, and I was briefed while I was feeding and toileting an orphan joey. The interview with the client was duly arranged for the next day (this time minus the joey), and we agreed a start date for soon after my return to the UK a month later. I was entertained to discover subsequently that LOD had publicised this new assignment – and the location of my interview – in the BLP newsletter in a three-liner accompanied by a photograph of one of the joeys.
Although I run my business through a service company, technology makes this as easy as managing my credit card bills. I’ve submitted VAT returns from Ecuador, Nicaragua and Panama, and RTI PAYE returns from Central Asia and Australia.
With the rapid advancement of technology now, there is no reason at all for anyone to be chained to their desk in a grey office in a grey town. Admittedly, not everyone has bought into this concept, with a few still wanting coats on the back of chairs at unearthly hours, but the transformation in the way that clients view legal services since I walked out of that US law firm has been dramatic. And that’s in less than ten years. The only thing we LOD lawyers need is a good internet connection and that’s something I’ve found can often be better and more readily available in the Third World than in the First. So where are YOU off to next?
Elizabeth Weir is a Commercial and Technology lawyer at Lawyers On Demand.