By Meghan Dohoney
For those practicing as solo attorneys or at small firms, it can be difficult to manage the demands of running a law practice without a safety net of associates around to pick up the slack when things get busy or if an emergency comes up. Hiring freelance attorneys for discrete legal projects (writing a motion to dismiss, drafting discovery responses, preparing a complaint, etc.) is one way of managing the strains of a busy practice, without having to hire a full-time employee. Freelance attorneys are a tool — or a possible career option — with which attorneys may not be familiar.
What is the difference between a freelance attorney and a contract attorney?
A contract attorney is typically someone who is in between jobs and looking for short-term gigs to pay the bills. Freelance attorneys, on the other hand, are generally highly-skilled in legal research and writing and have chosen to make a career out of performing legal research and writing on a project-by-project basis. Freelancing has the appeal of a flexible schedule, no billable requirement, and the option of never having to go to court. Freelancers generally do not sign the court filings that they prepare. Instead, they draft motions or pleadings for their client (i.e. the hiring attorney) to edit, sign, and file.
What can I hire a freelance attorney to do?
Hiring a freelance attorney is a great way to help manage overflow work, have more free time, and expand the business of your law firm. Freelance attorneys essentially serve as “as needed” associates. An attorney might hire a freelance attorney to draft or oppose a motion, assist with discovery, prepare a legal research memo, or help out with last-minute filings. Some freelance attorneys will have a specialized area of practice, while others will have a more generalized practice. Others may be willing to handle court appearances or even defend depositions if you become double booked.
How do I find a freelance attorney?
Because freelance attorneys are generally in it for the long haul (as opposed to contract attorneys), most serious freelance attorneys will have their own web site. A quick Google search will yield plenty of results for freelance attorneys practicing in California.
How do I start a project with a freelance attorney?
Hiring a freelance attorney is a simple process that can be broken down into a few easy steps. First, contact the freelance attorney and explain (1) the nature of the project, (2) the deadline for the project, and (3) the names of the parties. After the freelance attorney ensures that there are no ethical conflicts, you and the freelance attorney should discuss the specifics of the project. Usually, a 10-15 minute phone call or in-person meeting should do the trick. During the meeting, you should discuss the specifics of the case, a communication plan moving forward, and a budget for the project.
At that point you should sign a freelance legal services agreement (typically provided by the freelancer) and send all relevant documents to the freelance attorney. From there, the freelance attorney will draft the agreed-upon document and ideally send you a draft several days before the filing deadline. This will allow adequate time for the freelance attorney to make any edits that are requested.
Once the project is completed, the freelance attorney will send you an invoice. Outsourcing legal work is an easy and ethical way to free up time and keep up with the demands of your busy practice. Freelance attorneys offer a new opportunity to allow your firm to grow or handle a crunch while developing a lasting relationship with an experienced attorney without the overhead and pressure of hiring an associate. It also offers a career opportunity for those who want to use their excellent research and writing skills, but are uninterested in running a full practice or dealing directly with clients. Also, there is always the opportunity for a hiring attorney and a freelance attorney to learn from each other’s experience. Freelance attorneys are another tool in the arsenal for new attorneys to use in order to make their way in law.
Meghan Dohoney is a solo practitioner.