Has Jackie Donner finally found the Goldilocks “just right” balance for employing oleh lawyers to do outsourcing legal work?
Has Jackie Donner finally found the Goldilocks “just right” balance for employing oleh lawyers to do outsourced legal work? Will Donner’s business model at LawFlex, which now boasts 200 lawyers, revolutionize the legal job market for olim and possibly even beyond, where other similar competitors in the past have had only small-scale o temporary success? First, we need to explain what is new about her legal outsourcing business model.
The idea of legal outsourcing is still relatively new. Typically, lawyers have worked for law firms, and they made a profit by setting lawyers’ billing rates enough above overhead costs and what the firm was paying their lawyers performing legal services that the firm made a profit.
But clients have always wanted to find ways to reduce their legal fees, and this only increased exponentially during the 2007 world recession. The recession motivated clients to force law firms to reduce their fees. But reducing law firm fees does not work in the long term, as it eventually means lawyer layoffs.
Part of a possible answer to this dilemma may have been found with the globalization and outsourcing trend.
In this trend, overseas companies and freelancers start performing jobs that companies previously needed fulltime employees from their home country to do.
These trends as a means to reduce costs have branched out into a variety of new areas.
Recent years have seen a variety of companies employing US-trained and other foreign lawyers overseas in India, Israel and some other places. The idea was to offer foreign countries top lawyers who were trained in their jurisdictions but are now living overseas to perform legal outsourcing of law firms’ work, while being able to bill at a much lower rate. A lower billing rate was possible since most lawyers living overseas, such as in Israel or India, could also live on lower salaries than what US or British firms would pay those same lawyers if they still lived in their countries of origin. Several companies have tried this in Israel over the last decade with mixed success. To be successful, at some point these companies need steady revenue and caseloads for their outsourced foreign-trained lawyers now living in Israel. That steady work has been hard to pin down.
LawFlex was founded in 2015. While that recent start date makes any serious predictions questionable, Donner and LawFlex have two new ideas that may make them different and a bigger success.
Where part and current outsourcing competitors have focused on getting US-trained lawyers living in Israel work for US law firms, LawFlex’s focus to date has been on outsourcing in Israel itself. Half of LawFlex’s lawyers are Israelis doing outsourced Israeli legal work. The other half are foreign-trained lawyers living in Israel, but the work is for foreign practice of Israeli firms. In other words, many Israeli firms now hire full-time American, British and other foreign lawyers to handle their expanding legal work in the US, England and overseas.
But even those departments may sometimes be overworked and undermanned.
LawFlex is targeting that work – and it is sizable.
This makes a monumental difference because then an American-trained oleh lawyer is doing outsourced US legal work, but he is doing the work near the American oleh at the Israeli law firm that is outsourcing to him.
This allows in-person meetings, working in the same time zone and other advantages. Other outsourcing outfits have tried, but not fully succeeded, to overcome distance by utilizing strong technologies.
Donner, herself a British-trained lawyer who made aliya, also explains that timing has been on her side. “Lawyers today, as the boomers make way for the millennials, are no longer willing to give up on a healthy work-life balance.” In fact, work-life balance was part of what inspired Donner to start LawFlex. “There must be a different way to practice law. I did not want to give up on my career. I also had three kids at home and wanted to see them. I started doing outsourcing myself with different law firms.” Even now as CEO, when she has built up LawFlex and works long hours late at night, she still has time to pick up her kids at 4 p.m. from preschool.
While most of LawFlex’s lawyers choose to work from home, they do also work in its office space on Hamasger Street in Tel Aviv.
She also realized that she had “so many friends who made aliya with the hardest part being the career transition. They were getting paid less money, and it was not that easy to get a job. People are moving because they love Israel, not because it is a good career move.”
A key move Donner made was partnering with lawyer Zohar Fisher, who was well known and connected with the native-Israeli lawyer market. Donner said they are just starting to expand their marketing to more law firms actually located overseas.
LawFlex still does not necessarily offer its lawyers full-time hours, but, depending on the area, Donner said that some lawyers could get up to 100-150 hours of work per month.
In terms of legal issues, LawFlex can assist with a wide range of issues, such as general litigation, e-discovery, large-scale due diligence projects and even securitization of aircraft.
Donner hopes that LawFlex will become a major new source of legal employment for olim going forward, helping people’s careers and the cause of aliya.
This was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.