How An Israeli Biglaw Vet Is Rethinking Legal Outsourcing

 

Recently, I had an opportunity to meet Jackie Donner, ex-Freshfields lawyer and cofounder of LawFlex, an Israeli company that’s rethinking legal staffing.  Without getting into details, what I like about LawFlex is that it tries to make everyone’s life better, Biglaw firms who need quality work and lawyers who want to stay independent but have consistent work flow.  After talking to Jackie and grilling her about her business, I told her that I wanted her to tell her story on ATL.  Because even though Jackie and her cofounder Zohar Fisher are starting with the Israeli legal market, the company has global aspirations.

Zach Abramowitz

Hey Jackie, excited to get a chance to learn more about LawFlex. Part of why I like interviewing entrepreneurs is giving them an opportunity to tell their own story.  So, in your own words, why are you so excited about LawFlex?

Jackie Donner

Thanks Zach.  Its amazing to watch the changes that are taking place throughout the legal market. LawFlex is a company that is riding that wave of change by allowing law to be practiced differently.

For me it is ideological - I believe that you should be able to practice law and have a healthy work life balance. All the better that it is a model that works for the client as well. 

Zach Abramowitz

So why is there a need for LawFlex, and why are you starting with the Israeli market?

Jackie Donner

Legal outsourcing, or rather smart legal resourcing, doesn't exist yet in Israel and its about time it did ! There is also a pool of highly talented lawyers in Israel who have moved here from all over the world that we plan to tap into.  There is a need for LawFlex because the old traditional model is facing problems and the market has to provide solutions. 

Zach Abramowitz

Okay, so describe for me the problem.  At my old firm, we specialized in private equity, but every so often there would be an acquisition that would require expertise on regulatory issues related to military contracting companies, and then we would bring in another law firm that specialized in this area to handle that part of the transaction.  Why isn't this a good solution?

Jackie Donner

Referrals between firms will still happen, but sometimes a firm doesn't want to expose its client to a competitor. In addition, the other firm may not always have the capacity or exact expertise that is needed - LawFlex finds the right freelance lawyer exactly when needed.  But when I say problem with the old traditional mode,  I am referring to something more fundamental - the demands on a law firm employee are stuck in the 1950s, when there was someone at home to manage the house. With today's reality of two working partners, or single parents the model needs to be more flexible for lawyers.  On the side of the law firm, there is  increasing pressure from clients to evolve and reduce prices whilst not compromising on quality.  Clients don't want to pay for overheads. That in a nutshell is the problem with the traditional model. 

Zach Abramowitz

How many lawyers are already getting work flow through LawFlex and how much money are they making?

Jackie Donner

Since the launch of LawFlex only a few months ago, we have received over 200 CVs from attorneys - around 60% Israeli and 40% foreign licensed. After vetting them, we  have a solid pool of close to 40 attorneys who are rolling through LawFlex and getting work flow from Israeli and foreign law firms alike. The enthusiasm of law firms has been exciting - some of them are asking "where have you been until now?" as they see we are not only saving them money but also allowing them to free their staff for more lucrative work. With regards to fees, the LawFlexers are working by the hour, but with some projects at capped rates. The hourly fee varies but generally ranges from US$75 to US$300 depending on their practice field. 

Zach Abramowitz

How much does that translate into annually for an individual lawyer working through LawFlex?

Jackie Donner

It varies greatly according to the lawyer's practice area, so it is hard to say, but for those practice areas that are in demand, we have seen lawyers who are topping their full time salary, working substantially less hours.  The lawyer also decides his or her schedule ie. what work he or she wants to pick up and at what charge our rate, so there is a lot of independence. 

Zach Abramowitz

Now is the model you're using one that is borrowed from abroad, or is this model unique? Are big corporate law firms in the U.S. already staffing their deals like this?

Jackie Donner

Our model is most similar to that of Lawyers on Demand - a company launched by the UK law firm BLP, as we work with freelancers and provide support to law firms. The big player in the U.S. is still Axiom - though their model is different as they target corporates and not law firms.  Both of these companies have been a huge inspiration to us ! 

Zach Abramowitz

As a lawyer, what do I need to do to sign up for LawFlex?

Jackie Donner

We have three stages of vetting - a lawyer has to first send his or her CV to cv@lawflex.co.il.   We interview the lawyers who have the right experience.  After the interview we have a second interview with an industry player (one of our clients). 

We have received hundreds of CVs since launching - we are looking for the lawyers who want to have a good work life balance but still want to earn a good income.  We only take lawyers who have had over five years of relevant work experience. Most importantly, it has to be someone who can provide top quality law firms in Israel and abroad with the standard of work they are used to. 

Zach Abramowitz

Does it matter where they are (and are not) licensed to practice?

Jackie Donner

LawFlex started as an Israeli initiative but we are already doing outsourcing work for offices overseas, and therefore we are also working with lawyers qualified overseas - with an emphasis on those who are licensed in England, the U.S. and of course Israel. 

Zach Abramowitz

Israel makes a lot of sense because the salaries for corporate lawyers is really not great to begin with, compared with both lawyers abroad and other professionals in Israel. As you mentioned, some of your lawyers are already topping what they were making at the big Israeli firms.

Do you think the model can work outside of Israel where opting for work life balance can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Jackie Donner

Yes you are right the model makes sense in Israel for that reason.  Will it work outside of Israel?  It does already.   Lawyers on Demand have over 200 freelancers working with them. There are many more similar companies mushrooming around the world. The reason it can work anywhere is simple - it is because the lawyer, although charged out at far less, pockets most of the money rather than it going to partners' pensions, real estate costs, and electricity.  So the lawyer earns more per hour, and the client pays less per hour. 

Zach Abramowitz

And no one has to work in the same office with Biglaw partners! I think that's what Michael Scott referred to as a win-win-win.

Jackie, best of luck with the initiative.  Look forward to following the company's development.

Jackie Donner

Hahahha.  Indeed, thanks so much Zach, I enjoyed talking to you!

 
 
Zach Abramowitz