Whether you’re a recent law graduate or a seasoned professional with years of experience reviewing business contracts, becoming a contract lawyer could be a way to boost income or generate side-hustle money by using your legal skills in different practice areas, from real estate to employment contracts to intellectual property.
Working on a full-time or temporary basis can be a great for both long or short term opportunities. For example, a lawyer launching a new business might consider working a “full-time” gig as a contract lawyer in commercial litigation while they work on their start-up during the weekends and evening. Or, a stay-at-home parent interested in doing some legal research to keep their mind engaged in legal issues might enjoy a temporary contract assignment. Best of all, both options bring in a little extra income to boost average lawyer’s salaries.
Granted, like any other job, being a contract lawyer has its downsides, but with the right mindset, it’s a viable option for people looking to use legal professional skills to generate extra money.
What is a contract lawyer?
Contract or temporary lawyers, are lawyers who work on a case-by-case (or job-by-job) basis and without the guarantee of continued employment. That means they’re not considered to be regular employees of the law firm.
Contract attorneys are typically hired on a short-term or part-time basis to help with specific projects or cases. They’re not part of the firm’s regular payroll and often work independently from the practice’s other business obligations.
Being independent laborers, contract lawyers’ employers don’t withhold their taxes, and they’re not subject to a majority of labor and employment laws. They provide services based on their contracts which typically specifies a given timeframe.
Other than not being employed permanently, the other differentiating factor between an independent contractor and an employee is their method of compensation. While employees are often included as part of the company’s payroll and receive regular paychecks, contract lawyers do not. This can actually be beneificial when it comes to retirement savings, since you’ll technically be running an independent business.
Aside from the above distinctions, contract lawyers have the same qualifications as other attorneys in the firm. That is, they take the same education route as their employed counterparts.
They’re required first to get an undergraduate degree in their field of choice though they should sign up for classes that will allow them to be proficient speakers and researchers. Afterward, they can sign up for the LSAT while applying at a law school accredited by the bar association.
Once they’ve completed their law degree, they can then sit for their bar exam which they’re required to pass to be licensed by the state of their choice. Only then can they be commissioned on a contractual basis and tackle assignments.
That said, becoming a contract lawyer is open to all people regardless of where they are in their law careers. From tenured attorneys looking to get more work to lawyers who’ve recently relocated to parent lawyers seeking more scheduling flexibility to solo law practices looking to supplement work, etc.; become a contract lawyers means collaborating with people from diverse backgrounds.
They’re often referred to as staff attorneys, consultants, litigation support lawyers, off counsel, non-partner track lawyers, e-discovery lawyers etc.
Why are law firms using more contract attorneys?
While the concept of hiring contract lawyers has only become mainstream recently, it’s not new and has long been a staple in an economy that’s heavily dependent on its transient populace.
For decades, DC-based law firms have been relying on contract lawyers to assist with document reviews and processing, discovery, mergers and acquisitions and even regulatory work.
Initially, the demand for contract or temporary attorneys grew because law firms needed to get more support in their litigation and due diligence processes. However, the legal industry is continuously evolving to cater to dynamic laws and regulations and so is the demand for contract attorneys.
Law firms typically hire contract lawyers on a case-by-case basis to help offload some of the legal work to free their associates for more work. In such situations, there’s usually an immediate need to resolve a complicated job, which requires an extra set of hands for a specified period.
However, this isn’t always the case. Whenever a law firm decides to hire a contract attorney, more often than not, their main goal is to cut costs and will typically make every effort to continue to do so.
More and more law firms are following suit and go as far as to trim their workforce i.e. associates and partners, in favor of contract attorneys. The prevailing model of hiring has slowly become obsolete; gone are the days when law practices dolled our secure associate positions with eccentric salaries.
Furthermore, there’s a massive self-correction that’s going on in the legal landscape as a consequence of clients pushing back. The infamous recession of 2007 forced law firms to reconsider their fees, and consequently, this saw many firms go under, lay off associates, slash salaries as well as perks.
For small-sized firms, contract attorneys help provide them with the flexibility they need to grow their practice when they are unable to commit to hiring a lawyer on a full-time basis.
What type of tasks/projects do contract attorneys do?
Hiring contract attorneys offers law firms some level of steadiness and stability in an ever-shifting legal landscape. Because of this, more and more law firms and corporations are now utilizing contract lawyers in a much bigger capacity to cut costs and protect themselves without compromising service quality.
Numerous law practices and business often outsource their work for a variety of reasons and roles. The most common responsibilities assigned to contract attorneys usually revolve around creating and reviewing legal documents and contracts.
However, because they’re qualified and licensed lawyers, they often undertake the same duties as their employed counterparts.
This includes everything from brainstorming case strategies to handling property transactions to supporting litigation proceeding to research to handling depositions to drawing up contracts and settlements and even taking care of employment and labor issues.
Depending on the complexities of the case, contract lawyers may be involved in a project for as long as it takes, i.e. from a couple of days to months.
That said, because most contract lawyers have specialized in a given area of law, they’re often called upon to lend their expertise to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
Where can I find contract attorney jobs?
I’ve been wanting to build up a resource of contract attorney jobs for people that are looking to generate some extra money. Keep in mind that while you could work for a large law firm or at a law office, there are other options to work as in-house counsel or part of a company that provides law firms with “flex” lawyers.
If you’re interested in exploring this further, you best options might be your current network (ask and see if anybody is looking for additional part-time legal help on an ad hoc basis). Otherwise, check out these options:
If you’re aware of additional options, please send them to me and I will add to the list.
Joshua Holt is a practicing private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor. Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He spends 10 minutes a month on Personal Capital keeping track of his money and is currently fascinated by the JD Mortgage service connecting lawyers with lenders offering no to low down payment options.