Becoming a self-employed solicitor

Fed-up of being chained to your desk twelve hours a day but unwilling to give up your career in law completely? Working as a freelance lawyer might be the answer.

Traditionally law has followed an employment model that many considered set in stone. Young lawyers would come into a big firm and work long hours as an associate for years until eventually becoming a partner and revelling in the fruits of their labour. Increasingly lawyers realise how flawed this approach can be. Even after many years of working around the clock to maintain their billable hours, a lot of lawyers recognise that partnership is still a long way off or more pertinently that working as a law partner is not what they want after all.

This is where freelance lawyering comes into play. Other careers such as accounting, engineering and IT have long followed the freelance model, and as expectations around work/life balance are changing, the law is finally catching up to the benefits of going freelance. Many lawyers struggle with how the traditional working model leaves them with little time to pursue their other interests or spend time with their families. In the past, there was little choice but to commit fully to the partnership track or leave the law entirely. However, the face of the law is changing rapidly, and there are many so-called alternative law firms or legal process outsourcers. These law firms are looking for high-calibre experienced lawyers to work in a variety of high-profile, high-quality placements.

So how should you go about maintaining your career in law while still being able to pursue your passion for law or maintain a balance between your family and work life? Here are some tips to help you on your way to freelance freedom.

Limited company or sole trader?

The first step to becoming a self-employed lawyer or solicitor is deciding whether to set up as a sole trader or a limited company. Setting up as a limited company is perceived as attaching an added administrative burden but as the majority of company secretarial functions can be carried out straightforwardly online this need not to be the case.

Set up a personal services company

Many of the new alternative law firms require that you set up a personal services company (PSC) before entering into your first contract. A PSC is a limited company owned and operated by an individual. Setting up a PSC is a rapid and straightforward process so you can avoid incurring costs before you start earning money as a freelance consultant.

Engage an accountant

While it is quite straightforward to set up your own PSC, many consultants find that it is easier to appoint an accountant to assist them. The process becomes much more efficient as accountants have ample experience in such matters and can ensure that all requirements of the set-up are carried out. An accountant is also hugely beneficial for dealing with the annual processes of being self-employed such as filing annual returns. Furthermore as an employer – albeit of one – you must operate a payroll. An accountant can register you for the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) scheme and run the monthly payroll on your behalf.

Decide whether to work with a legal services provider

This is probably the most critical step for a lawyer looking to make the transition to freelance work. Many consultant or freelance solicitors decide to work under the banner of a legal services provider or alternative law firm. These companies can provide the benefits of a more traditional law firm while offering you the freedom to work on the projects you really enjoy. A good company will have its own business development and marketing teams which can provide work on an ad hoc basis and help you with setting up a personal website. They can also take care of issues pertaining to client engagement, conducting anti-money laundering checks and issuing invoices. Crucially such a company will also provide you with Professional Indemnity Insurance which is one of the most significant costs of being self-employed.


While it may seem that setting up as a freelance lawyer is a convoluted process, this is far from being the case. If you decide to operate under a banner law firm, it will be able to provide you with all the necessary guidance to set up on your own and will give you access to specialist advisers who will take you through all the options available.

So whether it is the possibility of pursuing your passions outside of the law or the ability to cultivate a true work/life balance that appeals to you, consider the option of becoming a self-employed (and self-reliant!) lawyer.