FAQ for Hiring Lawyers
Working with Freelance Lawyers
What is a freelance lawyer?
A freelance lawyer is a lawyer who performs work, on an independent contractor basis, for other lawyers. A freelance lawyer does not enter into an attorney-client relationship with your client.
What's the difference between a freelance lawyer and a contract lawyer?
In many segments of the legal industry, the term “contract lawyer” refers to a lawyer or non-admitted law graduate who works as an employee of a legal employment agency or legal process outsourcing (LPO) provider. The agency or LPO provider, in turn, contracts with law firms for the use of its employees to perform work on a temporary basis. The agency or LPO provider bills the firm for the contract lawyer’s time; it pays the contract lawyer a percentage of the hourly fee collected from the firm. By contrast, freelance lawyers are business owners who maintain their own offices, pay their own taxes, arrange for their own insurance and benefits, set their own schedules and fees, establish their own working conditions and pursue their own professional development.
Although the term “freelance lawyer” is gaining traction, not everyone is familiar with it. Therefore, some freelance lawyers continue to refer to themselves as contract lawyers.
What are the benefits of working with freelance lawyers?
Working with freelance lawyers can help you increase your firm profits and efficiency, decrease stress, and boost your professional satisfaction. These benefits are so significant that we’ve devoted an entire page on our website to them.
What tasks can freelance lawyers perform?
A freelance lawyer can do anything that a lawyer employed by your firm can do. This includes, for example, legal research and writing (including drafting pleadings, motions, jury instructions, appeals and discovery requests); document review; taking and defending depositions; making court appearances; and assisting with trial preparation. A freelance lawyer can also help with your marketing efforts by drafting (or editing, if you’ve already drafted) articles, books and CLE materials.
Why are legal research and writing projects particularly amenable to outsourcing to a freelance lawyer?
Legal research and writing projects are particularly amenable to outsourcing, for two reasons. First, you can outsource as much (or as little) of a project as you want. You may have already researched the issues and drafted a brief, but need someone to edit your work. Or you may need help with research, but want to write a brief or opinion letter yourself. Or you may prefer to delegate primary responsibility for an entire large project—including the preparation of a record on appeal, legal research and brief writing—to a freelance lawyer (working under your ultimate supervision, of course). Look for a contract lawyer who will accommodate your preferred work style.
Second, small firms and sole practitioners in particular can benefit from the fresh perspective and critical eye that a freelance lawyer can bring to a case. For example, sometimes it’s difficult to dispassionately evaluate legal issues in a case to which you’ve already committed significant resources. Although chatting informally with a colleague about your case may help point you in the right direction, a freelance lawyer who is familiar with all of the relevant facts and has read the applicable cases and statutes will be able to analyze the issues more closely.
Can I make a profit on work performed by a freelance lawyer?
Yes. All but one of the bar associations that have addressed the issue—including, most notably, the ABA—have determined that a hiring attorney may add a surcharge to the freelance lawyer’s fees when billing the client, as long as the total charge to the client represents a reasonable fee for the services provided to the client. As the ABA explained in Formal Op. 08-451, this is the same standard applied to fees charged for work performed by law firm employees.
Keep in mind that, if you want to add a surcharge, you must bill the freelance lawyer’s services as a fee (i.e., in the same manner as you would bill for your own time), rather than as a disbursement (i.e., in the section of the bill detailing expenses incurred for such items as court reporters).
(Texas is the only state that prohibits lawyers from making a profit on work performed by a freelance lawyer.)
Do I have to get my client's consent to hiring a freelance lawyer to work on the client's case?
Comment  to ABA Model Rule 1.1 (Competence) instructs that a hiring attorney should ordinarily obtain the client’s informed consent before hiring a freelance lawyer. Many state and local bar associations have issued ethics opinions requiring disclosure under some circumstances, and others mandate disclosure under all circumstances. Thus, the safest route (particularly if you practice in a state that hasn’t yet issued a governing ethics opinion) is to disclose, and obtain the client’s consent to, your use of a freelance lawyer. If you’ll be billing an experienced freelance lawyer’s services to your client at a rate lower than your own, this process can actually be an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to achieving the best possible result for the client at the lowest cost.
You may want to add the following paragraph to your retainer agreement:
You are hiring the firm for representation and not any particular individual. The firm may assemble the team of professionals best suited to serve your needs at each stage of your matter. The Firm may share with these professionals information about your case as necessary for them to carry out their responsibilities. All non-firm personnel are subject to the Firm’s ongoing supervision and applicable ethics regulations. You expressly consent to the firm’s use of these professionals and to disclosure of information as necessary for them to serve your needs.
Even if your retainer agreement doesn’t mention freelance lawyers, you can obtain the client’s consent to your use of a freelance lawyer during the course of the representation, when the issue arises.
Do I have to tell my client how much I pay the freelance lawyer(s) I work with?
No. In this regard, a freelance lawyer is treated the same was as a lawyer who works for your firm. As the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility explained in Formal Op. 08-451:
The firm pays a lawyer a salary, provides him with employment benefits, incurs office space and other overhead costs to support him, and also earns a profit from his services; the client generally is not informed of the details of the financial relationship between the law firm and the lawyer. Likewise, the lawyer is not obligated to inform the client how much the firm is paying a contract [i.e., freelance] lawyer.
Can I work with a freelance lawyer who isn't admitted in my jurisdiction?
Generally, yes. Because a freelance lawyer: (1) is not counsel of record; and (2) is considered to be working under your supervision, for most projects, the freelance lawyer need not be admitted in the jurisdiction where the matter is venued. Thus, a freelance lawyer who is not admitted in your jurisdiction can work on “inside” projects such as legal research and writing and drafting and responding to discovery. A freelance lawyer who is not admitted in your jurisdiction can also meet with clients and witnesses, as long as the freelance lawyer’s non-admitted status is disclosed.
A freelance lawyer must be admitted in your jurisdiction in order to take depositions or appear alone in court. However, a freelance lawyer can second chair a trial because, under those circumstances, you will be present to supervise the freelance lawyer.
Are freelance lawyers bound by an ethical duty of confidentiality?
Yes. Freelance lawyers are bound by the same ethics rules that govern all lawyers, including the duty of confidentiality.
Can I turn over full responsibility for one or more of my cases to a freelance lawyer?
No. The defining characteristic of the relationship between a hiring firm and a freelance lawyer is the hiring firm’s continued responsibility for rendering competent legal services to the client. Thus, the hiring firm must ensure that it delegates work to freelance lawyers who are competent to perform the work and must oversee the performance of the work adequately and appropriately. As with an attorney employed by your firm, the degree of supervision required depends on the freelance lawyer’s skills and experience.
If you prefer not to maintain the responsibility to adequately supervise the performance of the work, you may want to consider a referral or co-counsel relationship instead of an outsourcing relationship.
If I'm representing a client on contingency, does it still pay to work with a freelance lawyer?
If you represent clients on a contingency basis, and assume that working with a freelance lawyer doesn’t make financial sense because you’ll essentially be paying the freelance lawyer’s fees out of your own pocket, you should reconsider. Hiring a freelance lawyer to work on a low-value case frees you up to devote more time to higher-value cases; conversely, an experienced freelance lawyer can offer critical assistance in a high-value case. A freelance lawyer can even help you decide whether or not to accept a contingency case by examining issues you’ve identified at the outset (such potential statute of limitations problems) or by performing a jury verdict search.
How do courts treat fee petitions that include charges for work performed by a freelance lawyer?
A court considering a fee petition that includes charges for work performed by a freelance attorney should award fees that are reasonable based on the freelance lawyer’s qualifications and the nature of the work performed. See In re Citigroup, Inc. Securities Litig., 965 F. Supp. 2d 369, 396 (S.D.N.Y. 2013) (considering contract attorneys’ qualifications and experience, and type of work performed, in determining appropriate hourly rate); In re AOL Time Warner Shareholder Derivative Litig., 2010 WL 363113, at *26 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 1, 2010) (“Law firms are not eleemosynary institutions. Economic rationality dictates that the fees they charge clients be higher than the amounts paid to their timekeeping personnel…. The ultimate test…is what a reasonable client would pay for the individual’s time. Contracted personnel are now a feature in the legal community. [citation omitted] Reimbursement for these personnel is consistent with the Second Circuit’s endorsement of market-driven compensation.”).
If you anticipate submitting a fee petition that includes charges for work performed by an NCN freelance lawyer in a jurisdiction other than the Southern District of New York, let us know: we’ll find cases in your jurisdiction to support your fee petition, at no cost to you.
Will my malpractice policy cover work performed by a freelance lawyer?
Most malpractice policies automatically cover freelance lawyers for the work they do on the firm’s behalf. However, because insurance coverage is a matter of contract, you should read your policy and consult with your broker.
What are the applicable ethics opinions in my state?
At least 21 state and four local (county and city) bar associations have issued ethics opinions that directly address working with freelance lawyers; some have issued multiple opinions. Feel free to contact us for information about the ethics opinion(s) in your state.
The primary ABA ethics opinion in this area, Formal Op. 08-451, and two earlier opinions (Formal Ops. 88-356 and 00-420) are highly influential, and nearly all state and local opinions are consistent with them in all relevant respects (the only significant departure is that, in Texas, a hiring firm cannot make a profit on worked performed by a freelance lawyer).
Working with NCN Freelance Lawyers
How do I get started working with an NCN freelance lawyer?
The first step is to submit a match request through our website or by calling us at 914-595-6581 Then, we match you with the NCN member who is the best fit for you and send a Match Notice to that member; if you have a particular member in mind, we’ll match you with that member.
When the NCN member accepts the match, two things happen: (1) we’ll send you a link to the matched member’s profile; and (2) the member will contact you directly to discuss the details and terms of your engagement.
How many freelance lawyers will NCN match me with?
Once we receive your match request, we’ll match you with the NCN member who is the best fit for your engagement. If that member is unable to accept the Match Notice for any reason, we’ll match you with another NCN member.
If an NCN member has accepted the Match Notice, but you decide, after speaking with the member, not to enter into a services agreement with that member, just let us know, and we’ll match you with another member.
What qualifications are necessary to become an NCN freelance lawyer?
All NCN freelance lawyers have at least seven years of experience in practice and/or teaching legal writing at a law school. We review a writing sample; confirm each applicant’s bar registration status and clean disciplinary history; and interview three references before admitting an applicant as an NCN freelance lawyer.
How much does it cost to work with an NCN freelance lawyer?
NCN freelance lawyers are independent businesspeople who set their own rates. Like the hourly rates of lawyers who represent clients directly, NCN freelance lawyers’ hourly rates vary based on number of years of experience, practice area and other factors. Some NCN freelance lawyers also work on a flat-fee basis.
NCN never charges you a fee to match you with any of its freelance lawyers.
Will the NCN freelance lawyer I'm matched with work at my office or remotely?
Generally, firms that hire freelance lawyers leverage technology—from e-mail to stand-alone file sharing tools to practice management platforms—that enables the freelance lawyers to work remotely. If you’re looking for a freelance lawyer to work at your physical office location, please note that in your match request.
How do NCN freelance lawyers avoid conflicts of interest?
The NCN match request form asks about the identity of the parties involved in your matter. This enables the NCN freelance lawyer you’re matched with to perform a conflict check before accepting an Engagement Match Notification.
Additionally, best practices dictate that a freelance lawyer who you hire to work on a particular matter should have access only to the file (or relevant parts of the file) in that matter, and not to all files in your office.
What legal research services do NCN freelance lawyers use?
All NCN freelance lawyers are experienced legal researchers who are familiar with the full range of legal research tools available today. Many NCN freelance lawyers have their own Lexis Advance and/or Westlaw subscriptions. Some NCN freelance lawyers also have easy access to print resources at law school law libraries.
How do I pay an NCN freelance lawyer who I've engaged?
The NCN freelance lawyer(s) you work with will send you an e-mail that contains a link to view your invoice on a password-protected page on the NCN website (the e-mail will also contain the password). After you review your invoice, you can pay it securely by credit card or electronic check (ACH). Note that, because credit card transactions are approved immediately, while ACH transactions take a few days to settle, an NCN freelance lawyer may require that you pay an invoice for an urgent project by credit card. NCN freelance lawyers may not accept paper checks.
NCN freelance lawyers are required to invoice you via the NCN billing platform. The invoice and payment pages will display the NCN logo in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. If you do not see the NCN logo, please do not pay the invoice, and contact us immediately, as this indicates that the freelance lawyer has not sent the invoice through the NCN billing platform.
NCN understands that detailed lawyer invoices may contain confidential information. To ensure the confidentiality of information contained in your freelance lawyer’s invoice, your invoice page is protected by a password that is not shared with NCN.
Can I hire an NCN freelance lawyer as a W-2 employee?
As discussed more fully in our terms of service, if you use NCN’s services to be matched with a freelance lawyer for temporary or project-based work, and later decide to hire the matched freelance lawyer as a W-2 employee, you agree to pay NCN a success fee of 25% of the matched freelance lawyer’s annual base salary.
Do any NCN freelance lawyers do transactional work?
Currently, NCN does not have any freelance lawyers who do transactional work. However, we plan to add this capacity in the future.