Professional networks … might be for you.

Portrait of a female executive

Wow.  Only the first week of September and already I’ve had at least ten conversations with smart, professional women who are either thinking of leaving their office jobs for something more flexible or would like to re-enter the work force in some capacity after time off.  Yes, more than January and it’s notorious fitness commitments, September, is a time of renewal, productivity and change, particularly in the work-place.  Perhaps we are tied to our years of fresh pencils and backpacks or our re-charged batteries glowing with summer sunshine.

So, when I stumbled across this article, entitled “Freelance Law” in the ABA Journal (o.k. truth be told, my husband gave it to me, yellow “stickied” it, and left it on my night table), I thought that it was a great example of how women, when working together, can do great things.  Food for thought as we navigate our own career choices this September.

Fact: Female attorneys who wanted to have children or spend more time with their families have historically had to leave their big firms behind because they chose not keep up with the long hours required.  No surprise there.

Another fact: In today’s legal climate, using independent contractors for attorney services has become a way for law firms/ businesses to maintain a competitive edge.  Providing employee benefits, uneven workflow, payroll, and performing administrative tasks can make it both costly and risky to hire additional staff.  When workload fluctuates due to trials or a heavy caseload, skilled freelance attorneys can enable a firm to provide excellent work product for their clients at reduced costs.  Makes sense.

Well Laurie Rowen and Erin Giglia blended the facts.  But they saw opportunity too. Why not form a legal “network” with great female attorneys who could set their own hours and are willing to work on a freelance basis for other firms?

So in 2009 Rowan and Giglia founded “Montage Legal Group”.  Who are they? A 24-person law network (not to be confused with a law firm), based in California, composed of mostly women, from prominent law firms or in-house counsels, who work virtually for both clients of Montage and their own (if they choose).  It is a network of individual sole practitioner attorneys doing freelance work from home on an hourly basis. Whether a law firm needs assistance with law and motion work, depositions, court appearances or document review, or wants to add a new specialty or increased knowledge to their practice, Montage Legal Group’s attorneys step in to provide quality legal resources. 

The beauty is that the business model appeals to both their clients and their lawyers.  Law firms and corporations receive top -notch legal services on an as needed basis and the lawyers retain the flexibility allowing them to spend time with their families, elder parents, or whatever and whomever else they choose.  There are women who have used Montage to help them re-launch their careers too.  Allowing them to re-enter the work force slowly and softly.

“Montage Legal attorneys are incredibly efficient, Type-A planners, who have many balls in the air at once,” Rowen and Giglia say. “Despite our incredibly busy schedules, we still manage to exceed every expectation of the law firms that hire us. And we can write winning motions while making dinner and helping with homework at the same time!”

How many women in other professions do you know who could be described this way?  Most of women that I have spoken to this week and so many others!  And how many corporations are faced with the same dilemma as the law firms that make hiring permanent staff so daunting? Lots. 

It has become common-place for companies to outsource administrative and non-core services like call centers, mail-room, and technology (IT) but not as much for professional services. Can the “Montage” model be expanded further? Accounting and finance? Marketing and strategic services?  Education? Or what about networks of varying professional disciplines that act as a coop of services? 

There are so many great women freelancing as a result of work-balance choices,workplaces that don't easily translate to parenthood, and the slow economy, wouldn’t it this make sense for these skilled women to team up? Are there women that you would like to approach about forming your own professional network? Not sure how to get started?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Join an association in your field (American Marketing Association, Accounting, etc.) on a local level so that you meet peopl in close proximity.
  2. Find the chapter of the Women’s Executive Network in your area
  3. Talk to other Mom’s about more than sleep schedules and pre-school, there is probably lots of talent as close as your child's music class!
  4. Google all of the "meetups" of people in your field that are probably happening in your area

And maybe starting one of these professional networks is bit too much right now, did you know there are companies that specialize in helping professional women find part time work. I took a look at a bunch and weeded through those professing "make millions from your living rooms".  Check these out, they might be your first step.


Beyond Motherhood

Think about making some changes … tis the season.  Happy September.

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