There is a very timely and accurate post in today’s Wall Street Journal (H/T to Fred Abramson for bringing it to my attention via Twitter) called ‘How to Succeed in the Age of Going Solo” While they focus on ‘consultants’ they also recognize this applies to all those who are forced (or choose) to become self-employed.
The article very nicely lays out the realities of the workforce in this country and how solos in many professions will keep growing, recognizing this is the future path for millions of Americans.
Today, with unemployment rates hovering at 10%, and all our worries about the job market rooted in the moment, we are in danger of failing to see an important longer-term trend: More Americans are working as consultants or freelancers, either having given up or been forced out of the salaried world of 9 to 5.
It’s a trend that began after the economic downturn of the late 1980s, as many laid-off professionals became consultants. Then it seemed temporary, though, tied to bad times. Evidence now suggests that this is our new economic condition. Today, in fact, 20% to 23% of U.S. workers are operating as consultants, freelancers, free agents, contractors or micropreneurs. Current projections see the number only rising in coming years.
And for those who would still like to blame law schools for the unemployment in their profession this is what this solo cheerleader has been shaking her pom poms about:
We can rightly bemoan the loss of security, the shifting of economic risk from institutions to individuals. But crying foul will not change the circumstances that many Americans find themselves facing. Righteous indignation will not turn back time. We can, however, better prepare ourselves for the future.
Enough on that.
The article continues to lay out points regarding the attitude one must sustain through this transition and you should read the article in its entirety.
What I would like to emphasize here is something else. As these economic realities and professional changes take place for the lawyer as well as every other micropreneur, so will the services provided to us to make our jobs even easier.
We have often emphasized that the cost of entry into business today for the solo lawyer has gone down appreciably because of technology. As the general work place shifts to greater numbers of self-employed, the overall services and products market will shift, too. We will see companies and service providers start catering to our bottom line and in a more competitive fashion. If large companies can no longer just focus on other large companies to sell their services in order to prop up their bottom lines, they will have to design programs that are cost-effective and easily implemented for hundreds of thousands of micro-businesses such as the solo lawyer.
We are seeing this already in malpractice insurance where companies are offering low-cost ‘starter programs’ and even starting group health insurance plans for individuals who create groups. And we will see it more and more across all type of services.
What it also means, though, is these same solos need to take advantage of these services in order to keep their overall costs down because they will also be servicing a larger population of people similarly situated who will be looking for alternatives to the traditional dispensing of legal services. And they will be looking for value. I discuss this here and here.
What thoughts do you have on this coming shift in the balance of power? Of course, this is how I see it, the tail WILL start wagging the dog.