By Laurie Rowen
Thirteen years ago, after my first daughter Brooke was born, I gave notice that I was leaving my associate attorney position at Snell & Wilmer to work from home as a contract/freelance lawyer with my Snell & Wilmer associate colleague, Erin Giglia, whose daughter was born 16 days before mine. We wanted to spend more time with our families at home, but still work, and there really wasn’t any way to achieve this goal at that time. Once we joined forces to handle freelance legal projects together, Montage Legal Group was born. It was initially a struggle to explain exactly what we were doing. Many lawyers asked “Are you those stay-at-home moms who sort of work from home doing temp work?” or “Are you that mommy lawyer group?” Working as a contract attorney wasn’t a respected career option at the time. But we loved it, and we slowly started adding more former Big Law lawyers to our group.
In 2011, two years after starting Montage, we had excellent luck when an ABA Journal reporter contacted us about a feature story. They interviewed us over the phone, and then sent a photographer to Erin’s house to capture a photo of the unique “lawyer moms who work from home.” My second daughter Taylor, who was about 18 months old at the time, joined us on the photoshoot. She was scared of the photographer and needed to be near me, so we put her in a laundry basket by my feet so she could hang onto my legs. After hundreds of photos, Taylor started crying, so I picked her up and the photographer snapped a photo.
A few weeks later, I got emails and calls from friends telling me that Erin and I – along with my baby! – appeared in the ABA Journal magazine. Someone emailed me a scanned copy, and sure enough, we appeared in Erin’s kitchen along with Taylor, who was glaring at the camera, looking slightly terrified. The article was entitled “Freelance Law: Lawyers’ Network Helps These Women Keep a Hand in the Workforce” and started with the words: “Laurie Rowen and Erin Giglia would like to add a new work status to the law dictionary: freelance.” That article validated the word “freelance lawyer,” and along with the photo portraying working moms, it provided us with the press we needed to catapult us from an unknown business, to a legitimate, alternative way to practice law.
Over the past several years, many publications have featured Montage including the 2014 Forbes article, “How Two Stay-At-Home Moms Are Changing the Legal Industry,” and the 2018 Law.com/American Lawyer Magazine article, “‘Extreme Part-Time’ Lawyer-Moms Flock to Freelance Firms.” Almost every article included the word “mom,” and usually featured a photo of us with our children. We were incredibly grateful for the press focused on women lawyers, even though we watched our network grow from a few women to over 400 freelance lawyers, and almost evenly comprised of women and men.
Fast forward to today, and the pandemic has made remote working a common and accepted practice. Law firms that were previously hesitant to work with a remote freelance attorney have realized that lawyers can be just as effective at home as in the office. As small law firms have become overwhelmed with work, demand for freelance legal services has exploded. The pandemic has also given Big Law associates a taste of working remotely, and while it’s not for everyone, many lawyers are making the choice to stay remote now that many firms are requiring lawyers to return to their brick-and-mortar offices, “without work-from-home flexibility.”
A recent ABA article, “Be Your Own Boss: Freelance Attorneys Are on the Rise,” by Dayna Maeder featured Montage Legal Group, and reiterated what we have seen: the legal landscape has changed drastically, and freelance lawyers are on the rise. Maeder’s article started with a discussion of a freelance attorney named Timothy Rodes, who provides legal writing services to boutique and solo law firms across the nation from the “scenic beaches of Hawai’i.” The article addresses how Erin and I joined forces after our daughters were born, and quotes one of Montage’s freelance lawyers, Denise McGinn:
After a cross-country move and a pause in her legal career, Denise McGinn looked for alternative paths in the legal world. Now, using the Montage Legal network, McGinn works as a part-time freelance attorney, balancing her legal career with volunteer commitments and family obligations. “I sought freelance work to find a balance . . . but I quickly learned that it offered me so much more,” McGinn said. “I thrive off the different challenges I work on with a variety of lawyers.” McGinn assists clients on projects ranging from quirky civil procedures to appeals. Working as a freelance attorney allows lawyers to meet interesting people across various practice areas and work on cutting-edge legal issues.
While we are so grateful for prior press focusing on work-life balance for mothers, it was refreshing to see that this article addressed many of the numerous benefits freelance lawyering for both women and men: ability to be your own boss, flexibility to pursue different career paths while still making money as a lawyer, working while traveling the world, unlimited time with family, and as Maeder put it in one heading: fulfilling dreams. In contrast to the first ABA article that was spent explaining the term “freelance lawyer” and featuring a baby in my arms, Maeder’s article stated: “What has previously been touted as nontraditional is becoming mainstream, especially as newer generations of lawyers challenge the status quo.” Mainstream! From brand new and alternative in 2011 to being called mainstream in 2021, you can see why I had a huge smile across my face when I read this article.
A couple weeks ago, after not seeing each other for over a year due to the pandemic, Erin’s daughter came over to celebrate her thirteenth birthday with my daughter, Brooke. Watching our now teenagers laugh and talk, and knowing their age always marks the date that our business was essentially born, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past thirteen years and look towards the future. I’m certain there will be many changes in store for the legal marketplace and for Montage Legal Group, but I can now say with certainty: freelance lawyers are not just on the rise, but are here to stay.
Laurie Gormican Rowen graduated magna cum laude from UCLA and was admitted into Phi Beta Kappa. She attended University of San Diego School of Law, where she was an associate editor of the San Diego Law Review. Laurie started her career as an associate at Snell & Wilmer, LLP but left the firm after having her first daughter, and co-founded Montage Legal Group with Erin Giglia in early 2009. Montage Legal Group is a nationwide network of experienced contract/freelance attorneys with impressive credentials from top law schools and training in prestigious law firms. Montage’s attorneys assist law firms with temporary and substantive legal projects on an hourly basis, providing a cost-effective way to manage case overflow.
Montage Legal Group has been discussed and highlighted in various articles in Forbes.com, ABA Journal, The Huffington Post, Above the Law, and The Atlantic among other publications, and featured in Freelance Law: Lawyers’ Network Helps These Women Keep a Hand in the Workforce (ABA Journal, 2011) and How Two Stay-at-Home Moms Are Changing the Legal Industry, (Forbes.com, 2014). Montage’s unique business model has been discussed in various books, including Life After Law (2013), Overwhelmed (2015) and Lawyer Interrupted (2016).
Laurie is a frequent speaker on issues involving the ethics of freelance/contract lawyering, women in the law, and alternative legal models. Laurie and Erin have co-authored several articles, including Ethics of Contract Lawyering” (Part 1 and Part 2), (Law.com-The Recorder, 2013); Survey Results: Why are Women Really Leaving Firms? (Orange County Lawyer, 2016); and “Stay Ethical While Growing Your Firm,” ABA’s Law Practice Today (July 14, 2017).
In 2011, Laurie was named one of OC Metro Magazine’s 2011 Top 40 under 40. In 2012, the National Association of Women Business Owners-OC named Laurie Rowen as their 2012 Entrepreneur to Watch during their Remarkable Women Awards Event, and Laurie was also selected as USD School of Law’s 2012 Rising Star Recent Alumni Award recipient. In 2014, Laurie and Erin Giglia were honored to be selected by Enterprising Women Magazine as 2014 Enterprising Women of the Year Winners.
In 2017, Laurie and Erin were jointly selected by Insights Success Magazine and featured in their “30 Most Inspiring Women in Business” issue. Montage Legal Group was also selected as an Outstanding Small Business for the 2017 National Philanthropy Day Awards Luncheon.
Laurie currently serves on the Board of Directors of Orange County Women Lawyers Association (OCWLA), which has a mission to advance women by providing a professional network, raising awareness of discrimination and bias, and supporting charitable organizations.
In addition to her legal work, Laurie Rowen served on the Board of Directors and is past president and vice president of WHW (Women Helping Women/Men2Work), an Orange County nonprofit providing comprehensive employment support services to empower disadvantaged men, women and teens in reaching economic self- sufficiency. Laurie currently serves as the Chair of the Advisory Board of WHW.