The notion that employment has entered a disappearing act phase and some form of temporary independent contractor arrangements are growing exponentially is a threat to some and an incredible opportunity for others.
It is astounding how many Uber drivers used to be taxi drivers working a "steady" job for an established company. The new brand of Uber drivers using their own vehicles and working when and where they want speak to me of being far more satisfied as their own independent business, than as a dispensable employee never more than five minutes away from a pink slip.
Indeed, the social contract of "permanent" employment died in the last century as wave after wave of "reductions in force" and "corporate re-sizing" instructed all of us that employee status was the most impermanent of all economic conditions.
Recent analysis of the global transition to a Gigging Economy (by which growing numbers of individuals only work from gig to gig or at many gigs at once) reveals this is more than a temporary aberration, but a permanent trend. The digital, on demand and sharing economy has fueled this new workforce of workers working on their own time and in response to market needs.
None less than the Harvard Business Review posted a searing criticism of the lack of regulatory awareness of this new economic opportunity in The Dawning of the Age of Flex Labor. The authors conclude:
Flexwork is an idea whose time has come.
- The relative ubiquity of broadband connections
- Collaboration tools like Dropbox and Evernote
- Continued improvements to services like Skype and Google Hangouts.
- Software-driven marketplaces such as HourlyNerd, UpCounsel, and Behance that are facilitating the fast and accurate match of the supply and demand for high-quality, experienced talent
As the U.S. celebrates Labor Day today (and as a career labor and employment lawyer) the status of work is of immense importance to us. In recognition of this pervasive movement toward "freelancing" employment, the New York Times editorial board today offered its opinion that we need Help for the Way we Work Now.
It should seem inescapable that the period of stable "employee" relationships with trustworthy employers for a lifetime of secure employment has gone the way of the cathode ray tube.
However, there is nothing new in this paradigm to lawyers, especially outside lawyers. Over 35 years of legal practice has taught me that my economic security is only as strong as my last engagement and the potential for the next one. Outside lawyers have been Giggers all our careers.
It seems a bit oxymoronic to suggest that the exponential sharing and on demand economy will subject lawyers to threats of extinction. The best and the brightest always have adjusted to the changing economies.
At least on this score, the Gigging economy is no different than whatever preceded it in the delivery of legal services.