Typically, a new law school graduate dreams of working for a large law firm with a staggering number of benefits, including a healthy 401(k), medical insurance, and life insurance. In today’s downturned economy, with employers struggling to maintain the expenses associated with employing full-time employees, many lawyers find themselves unemployed.
Fortunately, there may be a new type of lawyer emerging from the legal unemployment rubble – the contract attorney. The concept of a contract attorney is simple: law firms cannot afford to hire full-time employees so they hire attorneys based on temporary or long-term contracts and pay them a flat hourly fee, typically $35.00/hr. While some contract work is on a project-by-project basis, the flexibility of firms hiring contract attorneys is a growing trend in today’s market.
Many contract attorneys are freelance, meaning they receive compensation on a 1099 independent contractor basis. This helps save employers valuable resources that would otherwise allocate towards large salaries, employee benefits, social security, Medicare, unemployment and labor and industries.
Hiring attorneys on a contract-basis not only appeals to large law firms to help decrease employment costs, but many smaller firms are hiring contract attorneys to help complete legal research, write legal briefs, and provide other services. The benefit for smaller firms is that they are able to accept more work without exponentially increasing their operating costs.
The American Bar Association permits firms to increase the fees charged by the contract attorney providing that the result is a reasonable surcharge to the client. This helps give smaller firms a competitive edge in the legal market, while allowing them to grow.
Contract attorneys remain steadily busy in today’s market. While it may take unemployed seasoned attorneys and new law student graduates’ time to realize this legal field is the wave of the future, the compensation can help pay necessary bills and student loans.
While the work performed by contract attorneys is typically not specialized, but rather a broad range of activities many large firms have realized the valuable resource and commodity contract attorneys provide. For example, high-salaried law associates can focus on more important tasks than document production, assigned to contract attorneys who work for a fraction of the hourly price that firm’s bill for an associate’s valuable time.
While many attorneys are self-employed, versus working for a temporary staffing agency, this does provide greater flexibility to the hired contract attorney. It helps them set a negotiated hourly fee directly with the firm. While some compare this line of work to a legal gypsy, wandering from firm-to-firm on a temporary basis, the downturned economy has helped dictate a need for this type of legal employment.
It is important for unemployed lawyers to be open-minded to this type of work. It might not be an ideal job but it does provide a valuable wealth of real-world experience. Therefore, when the cyclical economy upturns sometime in the future, having seasoned experience under one’s belt is more important than not having any experience at all.