Was one of your 2017 goals to bring in more clients, increase profitability or be more productive? A freelance attorney can be a valuable tool in accomplishing any one of these goals. Here are five steps to help you take the plunge.
Step 1: Determine if your practice could benefit from the services of a freelance attorney
A freelance attorney is one who works as an independent contractor, completing assignments on a project-
by-project basis for another attorney. These attorneys can be hired to do almost anything: from researching legal issues to drafting motions and briefs to making court appearances.
They usually work from their own office, carry personal malpractice insurance and have subscriptions to Westlaw or Lexis. If you find that you have more work than you have time and energy or if you think your time would be better spent in other areas of your practice, you should consider hiring a freelance attorney.
In King County, prices for freelance attorneys range anywhere from $40 to $100 an hour. But time spent on a project by a freelance attorney can be billed to your client at a reasonable rate — just like a salaried associate’s time.1 So, assuming you hire a freelance attorney to do billable work, you should be able to turn a profit on his or her work product. A freelance attorney can give you the financial benefits of an associate without the commitment of hiring someone full time.
Step 2: Find a freelance attorney
Now that you have determined that a freelance attorney would be beneficial to your practice, it’s time to find one. Generally, word of mouth or personal referrals are the best way to find a good freelance attorney.
Other options include checking the classifieds in the Washington State Bar Association’s NWLawyer magazine (several freelance attorneys advertise there) or going through a service, such as Emerald City Attorney Network. If you opt to go through a service, be prepared to pay more than the prices quoted above.
Finally, consider posting your own advertisement on a job-posting board. Always ask for writing samples and references up front and be ready to sign a contract for services — most freelance lawyers have some kind of hiring agreement they require you to execute.
Step 3: Pick the right project
Once you find someone you like, it is time to assign the attorney a project in order to evaluate his or her skills and determine if you have a compatible working relationship. The project should be something small, with a generous lead time so that you can correct any errors or rewrite things, as necessary.
For example, a research memo on a discrete legal issue in preparation for a later brief makes a great first project. The real purpose of this first assignment is to build trust between you and the freelance attorney; not to unload a large or time-sensitive project.
Some words of warning: Before you divulge any confidential information, be sure that the freelance attorney does not have any conflicts of interest. Additionally, appropriate disclosures should be made to your client regarding the use of the freelance lawyer, and client consent should be obtained if the lawyer will be receiving confidential client information.
Finally, your malpractice insurer may require you to tell it if you hire a freelance attorney, so be sure to check your policy to determine if such disclosure is necessary.
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