How Jessica Eaves Mathews created a law firm that boosts efficiency and supports women in business.
Jessica Eaves Mathews does things a little differently when it comes to law. The “status quo” in the legal profession, Mathews says, is to pay lawyers, and charge clients, by billable hours. That means clients pay lawyers based on the number of hours it takes them to complete a project. This system, she says, encourages lawyers to work long hours, since more hours means more pay. In the end, it creates a situation where lawyers are working more than they have to, and clients are getting things done at a slower pace for a higher cost.
The people suffering most under this system, Mathews says, are female lawyers who might not be able to put in the same hours as their male counterparts.
“The system was set up to reward people who are always in the office,” she said. That means anyone who has other obligations, for example caring for sick children or running the household, were set up to fail.
In a report by the National Poverty Center, researchers found female lawyers made about 60 percent of men’s earnings, and the report tied the lower pay to a lower number of hours worked. Vox News reports that wage gaps are highest in professions with set hours and high expectations when it comes to how long employees will stay at their desks.
“Women were being penalized for not making their career a priority,” said Mathews. “Often they were being penalized by men who have stay-at-home wives to take care of things at home.”
As a single mother herself, Mathews found the “old school system” unsustainable for her and unfair to clients. So, she founded her own virtual law firm.
The idea was to offer virtual legal assistance for, mostly, flat fees. That way lawyers could work wherever and whenever the needed to, and clients could save money. The model, she says, encourages lawyers to get things done quickly while simultaneously allowing for a healthier work-life balance.
The firm, now called Leverage Legal Group, was launched in 2008 and Mathews hopes to expand her unique model to California, Washington and New York, to name a few.
Mathews said when she first started, she was one of the first law firms to offer flat fees and one of the first to offer virtual legal consulting, but now those ideas are starting to catch on. According to IBISWorld, the online legal services industry grew by 10 percent annually from 2010 to 2015, and brings in $4 billion in revenue nationally, so maybe Mathews was on to something.