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Lawyer stories:
‘We want to be free, to do what we want to do’

Darren Heath has the dubious title of being Lawyers On Demand’s (LOD) first-ever lawyer. He joined LOD in 2007, when the concept of freelance and portfolio lawyering was still an alien concept, and he’s been an LOD lawyer ever since. In this article, Darren discusses why he started working with LOD, how his first role went from a three-month to a four-year assignment and how he makes his portfolio career work.

In 2006 I set up a production company with a film producer and director. By 2007 we still weren’t beating off enthusiastic film financiers with the proverbial stick, so I was intrigued when an ad caught my eye for a way to work as a lawyer, but differently.

It quoted Peter Fonda’s line from the cult Roger Corman film The Wild Angels, as used in Primal Scream’s Loaded, which went: “We want to be free, to do what we want to do”. I had some capacity while I was waiting for post-production to complete on the latest project – what could possibly go wrong?

I hadn’t practised law for five years and never thought I’d return to private practice. But this ad was suggesting something different, with a sunny photo of bucolic freedom. So, I applied.

I surprised myself by getting through the interview and roleplay test, and in May 2007 became LOD’s first-ever lawyer on the job. This was an amazing opportunity; it would allow me to earn some money being a lawyer for a few days a week while developing First Born Films and its corporate strand JurisProductions.

Back in 2007 this way of flexible working had no competitor, and it immediately felt like Jonathan Brenner and Simon Harper, the co-founders of LOD, were onto something. It’s one of those ideas that seems so obvious after someone’s come up with it that you wonder why it took so long, like wheels on suitcases. Over time there’s been a shift in working culture with lawyers realising they don’t actually want to sign their lives away to law firms. They’re choosing instead to work flexibly and take the time to enjoy their lives.

For me, it was always a way to finance my own business, but I thought clients would be less interested in a lawyer who’s got other things going on and not dedicating his life to the job. In fact, it seems to be an attraction for them. Running one’s own business definitely gives an added dimension to being an in-house lawyer. And there’s always something else to talk to the client about.

So, immediately after taking the first-ever two-week BLP/LOD induction course, I went to Orange on a three-month assignment. That three-month assignment lasted four years.

After that I went to the Financial Times for three months, working for GC Tim Bratton, who is now practice development director at LOD. Then in September 2012 I started at the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT). This summer I’ve added Cambridge University Press and the Royal Institute of British Architects to my roster.

The great thing about part-time assignments is that there’s no time to get tired of the job, although, much like Guy Pearce’s character in Memento, I do have to make copious notes at the end of each day to remind myself what I’m supposed to be doing.

Meanwhile, First Born Films is in the process of securing financing for three different projects, so until then the LOD work is very helpful and serves as invaluable experience for doing all First Born Films’ legal work. Plus I am (whisper it quietly) really enjoying these assignments. I’ve even been able to make my LOD work benefit the business – I’ve now produced three podcasts for the ACT.

The trick is trying to fit it all in; but I gather some top scientists are on the verge of inventing a new day of the week, so as soon as that’s in place we’re sorted. Maybe they should make it two.

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