By: Meghan Dohoney, Freelance Attorney and MSJDN Member
Between the frequent deployments, having to move every three years, and the stress that comes with military life, it wasn’t long into my marriage that I knew that a traditional legal career was not a sustainable option for me. As I know many MSJDN members have experienced, I felt if I wasn’t stressed out at work, I was stressed out about the military. “My husband’s helicopter was supposed to land two hours ago, why hasn’t he texted me?” “The deployment got pushed up another two weeks?” “Is a two-month long detachment to Thailand really necessary?” “We’re moving? We’re not moving? Now, we’re moving again?”
Coming off the end of a three-year judicial clerkship for a federal judge in San Diego, I was dreading making the leap into private practice. I felt that few career options would be a good fit for our inconsistent and ever-changing lifestyle. I knew as far as my career was concerned, flexibility was the name of the game. I also wanted a career where I could work remotely so that I wouldn’t have to start over every time we moved.
My husband happened to stumble across the web site of a “freelance attorney” — a term I had never heard before. A freelance attorney is an attorney who performs legal research and writing for other attorneys on a project-by-project basis. It is similar to a contract attorney, except freelance attorneys have generally opted to make a career out of freelancing and are not just looking for temporary gigs while in-between jobs. Most freelance attorneys work remotely and serve as independent contractors for other attorneys. As someone who loves writing and loathes public speaking, it seemed like a perfect fit for my personality and our lifestyle.
I spent the last few months of my three-year judicial clerkship doing all the legwork to get my freelance practice off the ground. I contacted the freelance attorney that I had found online and found out that she was a fellow MSJDN member. She walked me through everything I needed to know to get my practice going – she was an absolute godsend.
In order to get my freelance practice started, I created a web site (www.meghandohoney.com), made business cards, purchased invoicing software, signed up for a Lexis Nexis account ($50 a month for the first year), picked a time-tracking program, made a marketing plan, and purchased a high quality printer and scanner. I also spent hours researching marketing strategies, tax implications, and the ethical considerations of performing freelance work. None of these things was especially hard, it was just a matter of putting in the time. I would come home from work, make dinner for myself (the husband was deployed), sit down with a glass of wine, and work until I went to bed.
Making the Leap
Once my clerkship was over, I made the leap into freelancing in October of 2015. As anyone who starts their own business can attest to, the first few months were pretty stressful. As one might expect, I didn’t bill much in the first few months while my practice was getting off the ground. In some ways, however, I was relieved at the initial pace. Getting any business off the ground is a lot of work. If I had to perform actual legal work for actual clients while trying to simultaneously handle the business aspect of my practice, it would have been a lot to handle. In retrospect, the pace at the beginning was just what I needed.
Once the 2015 holiday season was over and January rolled around, all of a sudden, the work hit. Two clients found my web site online and started providing me with consistent work. It was such a relief to actually have clients! Opening a freelance practice is a somewhat unconventional path, so it was a relief to see that I could make this nontraditional practice work. Ever since then, my work has been pretty much nonstop. I have slow weeks every now and then but for the most part my work load is pretty consistent. When I am not billing, I am updating my web site, writing articles, contacting law firms, and overall just marketing my practice.
How I find my clients
When I started my freelance practice, my goal was to put together a stable of six attorneys who would consistently send me work, which is all I would need to sustain my freelance practice. Some of my clients found me by searching some iteration of “contract attorney” or “freelance attorney” on Google and stumbled upon my web site. Others found me through a classified ad I placed with my local bar association. Finally, the remainder of my clients located me through a group that I work with called Inter Alia Lawyers, a company that connects freelance attorneys with hiring attorneys. As many MSJDN members would benefit from outsourcing work, my goal would be to eventually provide freelance work to other MSJDN members.
My advice for someone interested in pursuing a career as a freelance attorney
A career as a freelance attorney is not for everyone, but it is a career that is a perfect fit for my personality and lifestyle. A freelance practice is good for an introverted self-starter who loves to write. I think that knowing and staying authentic to yourself is integral for career satisfaction. I knew from the first day of law school that I wasn’t trying to be Johnny Cochran. I went to law school because I love writing, wanted an intellectual challenge, and wanted to be financially self-sufficient. A freelance practice allows me to have everything that is important to me, as well as provides me with the work-life balance that I desire. Those who thrive off of the drama of being in a courtroom or need tons of social interaction would hate it. As an introvert who loves to write, however, I absolutely love it.
Now, six months into my freelance adventure, things are better than I could have hoped for. I have great clients, get to work remotely while traveling, and have the flexibility to take time for myself when I need it. The first few months on this unconventional career path were very stressful, but I would do it over again in a heartbeat.
If you would like more information on starting your own freelance practice or hiring a freelance attorney, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 619-804-8139.