Often, articles in the mainstream legal media about contract lawyers focus on the large law firms that, through staffing agencies, hire armies of attorneys (either foreign or domestic) to do document review work. So it’s refreshing that Downturn May Have an Upside for Contract Attorneys, an article in today’s National Law Journal, discusses the world of independent contract lawyers and the solos and small firms with whom they work.
Though the article begins by noting the somewhat bleak outlook for “traditional” contract lawyers (whose declining hourly rates of pay are attributable to a glut of lawyers seeking temporary work through staffing agencies), it soon segues into a discussion of the bright prospects for independent contract lawyers:
. . . the same intense economic pressures hitting some full-time lawyers have created new opportunities for contract lawyers, particularly those with an entrepreneurial bent and an eye for an unfulfilled niche.
A growing community of contract lawyers is working as freelancers for law firms or corporations. They have found service niches and their calling cards are lower costs and higher flexibility.
Since 1996, Lisa Solomon in Ardsley, N.Y., has practiced as a contract lawyer assisting small firms and solo practitioners with research and writing for civil cases. She’s an “inside” lawyer who drops into firms and cases as needed but doesn’t work with the firms’ clients.
Small firms and solo lawyers are feeling the same pressures as bigger law firms to reduce their bills, she said. They can use contract lawyers to staff up for a big case or big client without bearing the overhead.
With lots of lawyers looking for work, Solomon is busy coaching and training other lawyers who want to work independently.
“Business is growing,” she said. “There is a demand.”
Melody Kramer of the National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals is similarly upbeat: she says she has had “more work than [she] know[s] what to do with,” and opines that “[t]he market is perfectly primed for freelancing right now.” I couldn’t agree more.
The article also quotes Gregory Bufithis, founder of a job posting site for “traditional” contract lawyers called The Posse List. The growing interest that many Posse List members have expressed in striking out on their own led Bufithis to launch The Posse Ranch to help “traditional” contract lawyers go solo.
(As a final note, the article quotes me as saying that lawyers need “to figure out a way to provide services in a manner that fits the marketplace…. It’s just that people might be looking for ground chuck instead of filet mignon. People still have to eat.” I can’t pass up this opportunity to put this comment in context. I didn’t mean to imply that the work done by contract lawyers is of a lower quality than the work done by other lawyers; in fact, since many contract lawyers focus exclusively on certain tasks—such as legal research and writing—the quality of their work product generally meets or even exceeds the quality of the work that could be produced by the attorneys who use their services. Rather, the point I was making is that clients want their needs satisfied [i.e.,they want high-quality legal work], but without all the fancy BigLaw trappings that can drive up rates.)