The contract attorney market is hot and getting hotter. As Above the Law blog notes, “Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys.” But before jumping into a contract on either side, understand the pros and cons and take steps to make it a successful experience.
Contract attorneys are usually hired to perform specific tasks or to work on specific cases. When the work is completed, the contract attorney’s services are terminated or the parties enter into a new contract for other services needed by the firm.
Working as a contract attorney is one way for newer attorneys to earn income while establishing a law practice or looking for an attorney position. Contract services often include the basic skills that every new attorney needs to master, such as doing legal research, drafting motions, making special court appearances, and attending depositions. But many contract attorneys have found that their working conditions can be pretty dismal.
Contract attorney arrangements definitely have significant benefits to the firm. They can provide savings through lower billing rates, salaries, and employment benefits. Savings may also result if the contract attorney works out of a local law library or from home, thus eliminating any need for the firm to provide office space.
But the temporary nature of the relationship has its downsides, including contract attorneys’ frequent turnover and lack of familiarity with the law office or the client matter involved.
Some of the problems both sides experience in the relationship can be mitigated by making sure that the written contract
- sets out the roles and responsibilities involved in performing the work, and
- makes clear that payment to the contract attorney isn’t contingent on the client obtaining a recovery in the underlying case.
Having a thorough contract may help avoid later disputes over a client’s malpractice claim or a contract attorney’s claim of entitlement to profits, bonuses, or court-ordered attorney fees. For further protection, firms should contact their malpractice carriers to determine the effect of using contract attorneys on their malpractice coverage.
Whether or not you include specifics on them on the contract, there are some practices that will prove useful for both sides:
- If the contract attorney will handle a deposition or court appearance, make sure he or she is thoroughly versed in the case and the specific assignment.
- If there will be direct contact between the contract attorney and the client, advise the client and, if possible, introduce the client to the contract attorney.
- After the deposition or court appearance, the contract attorney should provide a thorough written report of the proceedings.
There’s much more to a law practice than the substantive law. CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial (chapter 1) discusses the use of contract attorneys and implementation of law office procedures. And for a sample form on delegation of attorney services, turn to CEB’s Fee Agreement Forms Manual §1.18.
Other CEB blog posts you may find helpful:
- Don’t Quit Your Day Job: 5 Reasons to Keep Another Job While Starting Your Law Practice
- All Law Practice is Local
- Expertise by Association
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