Contract lawyers serve many purposes in the legal field, particularly in affording flexibility for a law firm that requires more lawyers in a particular field than they employ.
Most often, contract lawyers are hired for a particular project or projects, after which the firm’s obligation to them ends. Though it would not be uncommon for the same firm to hire the same contract lawyer regularly or even frequently, the contract lawyer is self-employed and not an employee of the firm. This releases the firm from the financial benefits provided to employees, and releases the contract lawyer to accept or decline any project for which his or her services are sought.
Large, medium, small firms and solo practitioners use contract lawyers for the full gamut of legal work: drafting, document review, research, assisting in discovery or litigation support of all sorts. Contract lawyers can also do work for out-of-state lawyers on local matters, provide particular expertise in an area of practice, or be engaged for their foreign language skills. Contract lawyers are not necessarily just 'freelancers' working off their dining room tables, many are sole practitioners who take on contract work to fill the down-time in their own practices.
Some of the largest markets for contract lawyers are government and in-house corporate teams. Hit first and hardest by budgetary constraints and more motivated to drive efficiencies through their legal procurement, these two market players have long recognised the savings that using flexible contract positions can provide. Law firms, where brands are steeped in the unique cultural fit of their lawyers, have been slower to engage in the contract market. But that is changing.
Contract lawyer arrangements differ from merely outsourcing services. With an ongoing relationship with a contract lawyer, trust is established where the arrangement can become a regular, albeit inconsistent, gig. The work may be at the firm’s location, or corporation headquarters.
The evolving legal market is providing considerably more opportunities for contract legal work, as buyers and providers of legal services are looking around to find better options to manage their legal budgets.
The talent and experience of those contracting is becoming more transparent and easier to find online (such as through Crowd & Co’s legal network). Contract lawyers get to really hone their practice experience, many brought in to advise in specialist, value-added areas, building their portfolio careers with work provided by a range of clients – some of whom are other law firms.
The ultimate win-win business relationship.