Is High Dollar Temp Agency the New Professional Services Firm Model?

thorinsideFlickr Traditionally, junior law associates could expect long hours and intense pressure to be billable. But does the willingness to all but give up a normal social life necessarily make for a better attorney? Axiom Global doesn’t think so. They offer legal services provided by a team of experienced corporate lawyers on an as needed basis. Another major benefit: Axiom can often beat law firm rates.

The Problem

Founder Mark Harris told Ashby Jones at the Wall Street Journal he noticed something was wrong with the traditional law firm business model when he reviewed a client bill for a case he was working on.

“It was only February, and already we’d billed an amount equal to my salary for the year,” he says. He soon realized that every dollar that he billed for the rest of the year would, in effect, either go to defray overhead expenses or into the pockets of the law firm’s partners. “The model seemed broken to me,” said Harris.

Harris sought to create a new model, recruiting law-firm-trained lawyers to work temporary assignments, freeing them up to start up businesses, spend time with family, or simply enjoy a slower paced lifestyle. (Loads of them are writing books if attendance at writer’s conferences is any indication!) While lawyers are employees of and receive benefits from Axiom, they are only paid when on assignment.

One reason the Axiom model has been successful is that they are very choosy. It’s just as difficult to get a job with them as with any top tier law firm. Harris said they hire one lawyer for for every 100 who apply.

Thoughts From the Trenches

How to Keep Your Employees Happy Without Giving Them a Raise

As a big accounting firm veteran (who worked in litigation services), the article was interesting, but the comments were fascinating. Here are a few highlights. If you work in professional services of any kind, the full slate of comments is worth a read.

  • People with “other interests” — whether it’s playing with their kids or writing an opera — may very well be healthier and more interesting people than those who wed their souls to the inhuman demands of private law practice. But they are not going to be as good lawyers.
  • Oh please, trial lawyers are trial lawyers. A good one can be good whether he’s from a temp agency or a big firm. The idea that big firms have a corner on the market for decent litigators is ridiculous.
  • The scientific data is in – excessive stress and lack of sleep – have dramatic, negative effects on brain function.
  • After six years of practice, an attorney whose lack of pedigree limited her options to small firms is likely to be a much more polished professional with significant amounts of meaningful experience in the actual practice of law. By comparison, after six years in a megafirm, the associate is likely to be paranoid, jittery and harried from the toxic work environment, while having very little meaningful experience in the actual practice of law.
  • The law firm model has always been broken; it is little more than a pyramid scheme. Why work and make someone else rich when you can work for yourself and make yourself rich.

What do you think? Could this work for doctors too? And accountants? Rocket scientists?