13 Sep 2021

William Fry borrows from dispersed firm model to offer revenue share deals to senior lawyers

Top Irish firm unveils 'unique' fully flexible contract alongside new lawyer resourcing service for clients

Matthew Cahill Image courtesy of William Fry

William Fry is launching a service for senior lawyers to work for the firm on a fully flexible basis and a resourcing agency that will place external lawyers with its clients temporarily.

The Dublin-based firm’s William Fry Connect contract will allow senior outside lawyers who match its standards to practise under its banner on a flexible 'pay-as-you-work' basis. Lawyers working for William Fry through its Connect offering won’t be paid a salary, but if they bring work to the firm the revenues will be shared.

The virtual model has been pioneered by firms including Keystone Law and gunnercooke in the UK and US outfit Rimon. However, William Fry believes it is the first firm in the UK and Ireland operating on a traditional model to openly offer fully flexible contracts to senior lawyers under similar terms to these new market entrants.

Matthew Cahill, the banking and finance partner leading the projects internally at William Fry, said that clients at the top end “will only use lawyers if they are at a firm with the right reputation and standing.” He described William Fry Connect as a “natural evolution of flexible working” that will allow “top end Irish lawyers to leverage the William Fry brand on terms that work for them and William Fry”.

The firm is also launching PeopleBridge, a client-facing service similar to Allen & Overy’s Peerpoint that will recruit and vet lawyers from outside the firm to work with its clients on particular projects such as major M&A deals or audits, or to cover a lawyer’s period of leave.

Managing partner Owen O’Sullivan commented that William Fry, which already seconds lawyers to certain clients and will continue to do so, gets many more secondment requests than it can meet. “We see PeopleBridge as filling a gap at the top end of the interim resources market in Ireland," he said.

The firm believes the service could see 30-50 lawyers join its roster over the next two years, with the offering likely to appeal to those who, for personal or family reasons, don’t want a permanent full-time position.

The firm also believes that adding additional flexible working options can help firms with their ESG credentials. Cahill commented: "Covid has been a great disrupter to the ways in which we work and our new fully flexibly contract will bring many back to the work place and allow those in the later stages of their careers to keep working."

He added that those who work on a consultancy basis don’t have the pressures most lawyers do to meet billable hour or fee income targets, or to show up at the office. 

“The consultancy model is going to be attractive to many, especially those wanting to better juggle work and caring responsibilities. And there are going to be plenty of heavy hitters out there at the end of their careers with valuable contacts wanting to work beyond normal retirement age on a commission-based consultancy.”

Cahill also sees the potential for the model to be adopted by more firms: "As long as firms protect their brand by hiring lawyers with the right pedigree it is hard to see why this won’t become another standard hiring option for Big Law. The economics are compelling. Consultants are not paid unless they bring in revenues.

“There are many partners who don’t have the book to justify a partner’s pay packet but who have the reputation and clients for the model to work sufficiently for both.”

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