How to Outsource Legal Work to a Freelance Attorney
By: Meghan Dohoney, MSJDN Member and Freelance Attorney
As military spouse attorneys, we balance long hours, difficult clients, combative opposing counsel, frequent moves, countless evenings alone, and the ever-changing schedules of our spouses. The practice of law is stressful enough already, let alone having to deal with the added stress that comes with being married to someone in the military. Hiring freelance attorneys for discrete legal projects (writing a motion to dismiss, drafting discovery responses, preparing a complaint, etc.) is one way of delegating some of our work in order to make time for the litany of other things that demand our attention.
While legal outsourcing is still a relatively new concept, it is becoming more and more common in our profession. As a freelance attorney myself, I have seen firsthand the benefits that hiring attorneys can derive from outsourcing work. Below is a short primer addressing the nuts and bolts of hiring a freelance attorney for those MSJDN members interested in doing so.
What is a freelance attorney?
A freelance attorney is a skilled professional who has made the choice to develop a flexible and diverse law practice by way of assisting other attorneys on a project basis. Generally, freelance attorneys are highly skilled in legal research and writing. They are not lawyers in between jobs and are not recent grads looking for extra work.
Why would I hire a freelance attorney?
Freelance attorneys essentially serve as “as needed” associates. The primary reason to hire a freelance attorney is to assist with overflow work or research needs, or to allow the hiring attorney to have more free time. Freelance attorneys can also be used to expand the business of a law firm or help the hiring attorney learn a new practice area.
How do I find a freelance attorney?
There are several companies that do the legwork of finding and vetting freelance attorneys. Some companies are nationwide while others operate on a more local or state level. One example of the latter category is the freelancing company I work with, Inter Alia Lawyers. Inter Alia focuses primarily on providing freelance assistance for attorneys in California. Other ways of finding freelance attorneys include searching the internet, finding one on Craigslist, and asking colleagues for recommendations. Typically using a service like Inter Alia Lawyers, however, is the quickest and easiest way to find a skilled freelance attorney.
What are the ethical implications of hiring a freelance attorney?
Ethics rules vary by state but here are some general considerations:
Confidentiality: The duty of confidentiality necessarily extends to a freelance attorney working on a client’s matter. Confidential information can be disclosed to an outside freelance attorney so long as the freelance attorney agrees to keep the client’s information confidential.
Duty to Avoid Conflicts: The duty to avoid conflicts is an important consideration because freelance attorneys may work for multiple firms and will have more possibility for conflicts of interest. Before engaging a freelance attorney, always conduct a written a conflict check. Hiring attorneys should also limit the freelance attorney’s exposure to the specific project or case.
Duty to Act Competently: The duty of competence ultimately resides with each attorney. An attorney may enlist the services of a freelance attorney when she is unfamiliar with a particular area of law, but must inform the client. The freelance attorney may be used if she is reasonably believed to be competent in that practice area. The hiring attorney retains the duty to supervise and ultimately approve of the freelance attorney’s work.
Billing the Client for a Freelance Attorney’s Time: This also varies widely by state, but in many states a freelance attorney’s fees may be absorbed by the firm, passed through to the client as a cost, or billed as legal fees. In California and many other states if the freelancer’s fees are billed as legal fees, it is permissible to add a surcharge when billing the client.
How do I start a project with a freelance attorney?
Hiring a freelance attorney is a straightforward, easy process that can be broken down into a few simple steps. First, contact the freelance attorney or agency and tell them: (1) the nature of the project; (2) the deadline for the project; and (3) the names of the parties. From there, the freelance attorney will perform a conflict check.
After ensuring that the freelancer has no conflicts, the hiring attorney and the freelance attorney should then schedule a brief phone call to discuss the specifics of the project. Usually these calls are brief, lasting around 10-15 minutes. In addition to discussing the specifics of the case, the attorneys should also discuss their communication plan moving forward as well as an estimated amount of hours needed to complete the project. At that point the attorneys should sign a freelance legal services agreement (typically provided by the freelancer) and the hiring attorney should send all relevant documents to the freelancer. The freelance attorney should then have everything he or she needs to begin work on the project.
Outsourcing legal work is an easy, relatively inexpensive, and ethical way to free up some time when you need it. For more information about hiring freelance attorneys or about starting your own freelance practice, contact me at email@example.com.
Meghan Dohoney is a California-licensed freelance attorney and managing director of Inter Alia Lawyers.