Take a Tip from Tom Sawyer: Let a Freelancer Whitewash the Fence for You

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of white-wash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all the gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled upon his spirit. –from the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain Poor Tom Sawyer? No, because he figured a way out. Although freelancers won’t pay YOU for the privilege of doing your work, they will do it and do it well, thereby relieving any “deep melancholy” you may experience looking at your desk. Think broadly. The practice of law calls for a varied skill set. Most people don’t have strengths in all areas, so why not let a freelance attorney do some of the work for you? Consider hiring a freelance attorney to do the work that you either don’t like to do, don’t have time to do, or don’t have the expertise to do. Some of my MFAN colleagues take on litigation support tasks like brief writing and discovery. But freelance attorneys can also help with transactional work, marketing, and administrative tasks, such as: Writing/editing your website copy Preparing marketing materials Drafting posts for your firm blog Reviewing your work to date and distilling it down to model contracts, checklists, so the next time, it goes that much faster Creating/editing CLE materials Step back and give some thought to what kind of investment would help your practice. Now more than ever, time and money spent creating efficiencies can improve your bottom line. I left private law practice some time ago to teach and work on practicelaw.org, the Minnesota State Bar Association’s practice resources website. Now I whitewash fences as a freelance writer and editor. Don’t let any melancholy settle upon your spirit. Hire a freelance attorney. Nancy graduated from University of Illinois and started her career as an associate, specializing in transactional real estate. She then left practice...

Ethics Series Part 3: Understanding Malpractice Insurance for Freelance Attorneys

Understanding legal malpractice insurance coverage is critical, especially for freelance attorneys who may rely upon a hiring law firm for coverage. Although malpractice insurance is not ethically required, the practical reality is that freelance attorneys are only protected from malpractice claims if they ensure their work is covered by malpractice insurance. When working for a law firm, freelance attorneys may be tempted to scrimp on purchasing their own malpractice coverage believing that the hiring law firm’s policy will cover their work. But even when the law firm carries its own malpractice insurance, the partner hiring the freelance attorney may not understand the terms of the firm’s policy and may inadvertently skip the necessary steps to secure the appropriate coverage. For a freelance attorney to be covered by a law firm’s policy, the law firm must first have a rider or endorsement to its malpractice insurance policy that permits the firm to add independent contractors to its policy coverage. Second, and most importantly, the law firm must notify its carrier each time a freelance attorney is hired. Further, if the freelance attorney is added to the firm’s policy, the freelance attorney must ensure that when the firm renews its coverage that his or her name remains as an additional insured. If a claim arises and the freelance attorney is not named as an additional insured at the time the claim is filed, the freelance attorney will not be covered by the firm’s malpractice insurance. Hence, if a freelance attorney relies upon malpractice coverage from the contracting law firm, the freelance attorney should confirm that his or her name is added to the firm’s malpractice policy and that his or her name remains there in successive years if the freelance relationship continues. In the alternative, a freelance attorney can purchase his or her own malpractice coverage and not worry whether the...

Five Tips for Delegating A Legal Project With Confidence

“But it would take less time to do it myself!” Sound familiar? Law school teaches us to analyze cases, not manage other people. Yet you can get only so far by doing it all yourself. Herewith, a few simple tips for when you need to delegate. 1. Choose a task that will repay your investment of time. Yes, delegating will take more time than doing it yourself—at first. So start with a tempting target: a task you do often, don’t love, and would gladly give up if you could teach someone to do it as well as you do. 2. Know what you want. As the expert on the task, you’re in the best position to describe what you need to have done. Make a mind map or checklist setting out each step in order, how long it should take, and what resources your colleague will need to complete the task. (This is a simplified version of Legal Project Management.) 3. Choose someone you trust. Finding the right person also takes time, the first time. If you don’t have someone in your organization, there are outside options. Freelance attorneys are a great choice for legal projects because they should be quick to grasp the nature of the project. In addition, their bar admission can be easily verified, they’re subject to professional obligations including confidentiality and conflict-checking, and they may (should, in my opinion) have malpractice insurance. 4. Ask for what you need. Never ask, “when can you have this done?” Tell your colleague exactly what you want, in what form you want it, and when (preferably a calendar date and time). Encourage them to speak up if that deadline isn’t doable. Ask for status updates the same way. 5. Welcome questions. When no one questions the captain, the plane may crash. Accept that questions are part of supervision, and...

Freelance Attorney Work: Is Malpractice Insurance Required?

In Minnesota, attorneys are not legally or ethically required to carry malpractice (professional liability) insurance. But the obvious question is not one of mandatory requirement, but rather a question of realistic necessity. Do freelance attorneys—who work on specific projects for hiring attorneys—need to carry their own separate malpractice insurance policy? With all of the other expenses associated with running a freelance practice, malpractice insurance seems like just another drain on financial resources. However, unlike buying a faster scanner or subscribing to more legal publications, acquiring malpractice insurance deserves serious consideration at the top of a freelance attorney’s priority list. Best practice is for a freelance attorney to carry his or her own malpractice insurance policy. Although a freelance attorney should verify that the hiring attorney carries current and sufficient malpractice insurance to cover the project at hand, there exists the possibility of an indemnification claim by the hiring attorney’s insurer if a malpractice claim is filed. Whether or not the freelance attorney will be held liable is a separate issue, but handling the cost of defending against the malpractice claim is not something any freelance attorney should risk. In addition, carrying a malpractice insurance policy increases the reputability of a freelance attorney’s practice, showing potential clients (hiring attorneys) that the freelance attorney is a professional ready to do business the right way. With freelance work being a relatively new practice area, the availability and coverage of malpractice insurance for freelance attorneys varies. However, most people are surprised by the relative affordability of a policy. Best advice is to contact several insurers to discuss policy specifics and get quotes. Insurers need to have a clear understanding of the freelance work being done, including practice area(s) and number of billable hours. The American Bar Association maintains a state-by-state directory of malpractice insurance providers. Ultimately, getting a malpractice insurance policy makes good...

Freelance Attorney Work: Is A Written Agreement Required?

The question of whether the work of a freelance attorney requires a written agreement seems obvious at first glance: “get it in writing” is a golden rule taught during the first year of law school. Practical application of this rule, however, is not as simple. Ultimately, the freelance attorney and hiring attorney are responsible for defining the business relationship, including whether or not a written agreement is executed for a freelance project. Obviously, the best practice is to use a written freelance work agreement for every engagement. A written agreement clearly defines the project terms for everyone involved, including ethical and legal considerations, and protects the interests of both the freelance attorney and the hiring attorney. But this written agreement does not have to be anything complicated or lengthy. In most cases, a simple two or three page agreement will suffice. The basic terms to be covered by a written freelance work agreement should include, at a minimum: Scope of freelance project assignment and due date(s); Compensation, including rate (hourly or flat) and billing terms (invoicing and payment); Employment relationship (independent contractor or employee); Malpractice insurance (coverage for the project); Confidentiality (client and firm information); Conflict of interest checking; Project expenses and necessary resources (who bears the cost); Work product ownership and professional responsibility; and Dispute resolution (how to handle potential disputes). There may be situations, dependent on the client, project, or timetable, where getting a written freelance work agreement is not possible or necessary. If a hiring attorney is looking for last-minute emergency assistance, there may not be time to negotiate an agreement on the front end. Or maybe the hiring attorney and freelance attorney have a pre-existing professional relationship and are comfortable working without a formal agreement. In these situations, it still benefits both sides to set forth the basic project terms in an email, which can...

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