The big opportunity with the SQE is the flexibility around how you get your two years' qualifying work experience. Flex Legal have launched a new app to facilitate that journey. We spoke to their COO, Sam Gunn...
Could you give us an intro to Flex Legal? What do you do and who are your subscribers?
Sam Gunn: Flex Legal is an interim legal work service, founded in 2016 by Mary Bonsor, a property litigator, and James Moore, a software engineer. Our online platform creates win-win connections, pairing law firms and in-house legal teams with interim lawyers and paralegals on a flexible basis. Our clients get extra interim support when their legal work ramps up, and our paralegals and lawyers get interim placements that work around their other commitments. Everybody wins!
Today, Flex Legal is an award-winning platform home to over 5,500+ paralegals and lawyers, supporting hundreds of in-house teams, law firms, paralegal hubs, barrister chambers, small businesses, and more!
“As anyone who has ever worked in law can tell you, legal work is not consistent. It can, and always does, ramp up. When this happens, paralegals and lawyers are expected to absorb the extra work…”
Without Flex, how does paralegal resourcing usually work?
People are always the greatest cost to any law firm or legal team, whereas processes, systems, and culture are often the least invested area. As anyone who has ever worked in law can tell you, legal work is not consistent. It can, and always does, ramp up. When this happens, paralegals and lawyers are expected to absorb the extra work, strain, and pressure. Legal teams wanting to grow or increase their paralegal resourcing have to do so through lengthy and time-consuming recruitment or onboarding processes.
Flex Legal seeks to remedy these problems with a rapid, flexible service. All of the paralegals and lawyers on our platform have been pre-interviewed, pre-prepared, and are raring to go. They are available immediately, and can flexibly bolster the ranks of any legal team that needs additional support. When the work dies back down, they move onto another project that needs them. Think of Flex as an emergency parachute for your legal team that can be deployed when it needs help most.
In which sectors in the UK have you seen the greatest uptake to date?
Flex Legal regularly serves the urgent needs of litigation and commercial law, where disclosure and document review tasks routinely strain legal teams. However, we also assist with an enormous range of legal tasks such as court support, subject access requests, contract review, legal translation, and many more!
We’ve seen a rapid growth since our launch four years ago, and a vast increase in demand as more teams become aware of the benefits of flexible legal resourcing. Despite the challenges brought last year by Covid, we expanded our service considerably. Many new clients got in touch with us to navigate the treacherous waters of economic uncertainty, remote working, and general disruption to legal working.
At what stage in their legal career should candidates consider using Flex?
Law graduates are welcome to apply to work through Flex Legal as a paralegal. We ask for a minimum of a 2:1 and prior legal work experience (volunteering is perfectly fine). Since the advent of Covid last year, we have seen an enormous increase in the amount of applications we are receiving, which does unfortunately mean we are turning many applicants down. We don’t like disappointing anyone, so we always try to give constructive advice and feedback even if we’re rejecting someone.
Qualified Lawyers can also apply to join Flex Legal at any stage in their career! This could be from newly qualified solicitors looking for more flexible working opportunities, all the way to retirees looking for a few days’ work each week in order to keep busy.
“The Journal also allows students to easily see exactly where they have accrued their experience, and where they need to focus more in order to meet the SRA’s requirements.”
How do you think law firms benefit from engaging with Flex?
Sam Gunn: Legal teams that use Flex are able to rapidly scale up their operation and enhance their ability to respond to fluctuations in workload, all whilst keeping costs manageable by saving the need to onboard more permanent hires. Whether it’s an urgent request for 30 paralegals as of Monday for a disclosure exercise, or a longer-term placement for a specialised lawyer with highly niche skills, we already have the exact resources legal teams need. Law firms engaging with Flex can speed up their delivery on projects, reduce team stress, and keep costs low.
In time for the new SQE, you’ve launched a new training journal app. How does it work?
Sam Gunn: Our SQE Journal is the UK’s first digital record of Qualifying Work Experience (QWE). As part of the SQE, students need to build two years of QWE that fulfils criteria specified by the SRA. Our SQE Journal is designed with this exact procedure in mind. It offers SQE students the means to digitally record their experience in ‘Journal Entries’. These entries can be matched directly against the SRA’s specified criteria and submitted to supervisors for approval and feedback. The Journal also allows students to easily see exactly where they have accrued their experience, and where they need to focus more in order to meet the SRA’s requirements.
Our SQE Journal is now in open Beta, and anyone interested can access and use it - even if they aren’t registered on the Flex Legal platform. We want it to become a valuable tool to anyone interested in qualifying via the SQE. We’re really happy with where it is right now, but we know it will continue to grow and improve as more people use it. Please give it a look!
Does it require the firms providing the QWE to also subscribe to the app?
There is absolutely no subscription necessary for law firms or anyone supervising an SQE student. Supervisors simple create an account, and they can immediately start receiving QWE and provide approval or feedback.
We would always encourage students to have an up-front conversation with their supervisors about getting QWE confirmed. Once this has been agreed, SQE students simply add their supervisors’ contact details into the SQE Journal and start submitting Journal Entries. We will be implementing supervisor approval features in early April. When the feature is live, their supervisor will then receive an email so they can log into the platform and see the Journal Entries. These can be confirmed all at once, or individually, whichever works best!
How does it manage confirmation with the SRA?
The journal has two levels of approval: firstly with a supervisor and secondly with a registered solicitor. At the first level, the supervisor confirms that the work described in the Journal Entries took place, and that no issues arose relating to character and suitability requirements to become a solicitor. Once a placement is complete, all journal entries can be sent for the second level of confirmation with an SRA regulated solicitor. The SRA are expected to launch their QWE submission process in spring 2021, where they can audit QWE submissions and SRA confirmations. Our SQE Journal will serve as a record of this, and will allow the SRA to easily check and verify each stage of the process.
Who stands to benefit the most from using Flex Legal?
Sam Gunn: Everyone!