How a freelance attorney can benefit your probate and estate practice

So it’s the holidays and you are officially swamped. Between now and New Year’s Eve you have five networking events to attend, four family gatherings in three different states, two probate hearings, and a paralegal who is on vacation under a palm tree. The solution? Contract with a freelance attorney to do everything from drafting estate documents to final accounting. As previous blog posters have pointed out, a freelance attorney could help share your work load during critical times. A freelance attorney who specializes in estate planning and probate can locate and notice interested persons while you’re at the in-laws being blessed with yet another ugly sweater and prepare the final accounting while you are spending that valued time with your family that made the trip in from out of town. If you would rather do your own hearing prep, a freelance attorney can draft those pesky ILITs, GRATs, or QTIPs at a negotiated hourly or per project rate. You may even be able to pass the cost of the freelance attorney to a client while improving your own bottom line. The best part of this arrangement with a freelance attorney is that you can efficiently utilize the finite amount of time available to you before the clock strikes midnight on 2013 and then return to your normal work schedule with just you and the paralegal once the time crunch is over. So if you need the extra hands—but don’t want to take on the long-term obligation of an associate or a partner—contact a freelance attorney to get those projects done on time. Whether you need to draft a will or prepare a fiduciary income tax return, a freelance attorney specializing in probate and estate is the way to maintain your holiday cheer, your practice, and your budget. Nicholas is an honors graduate of the University of St. Thomas...

Ethics Series Part 4: To Bill or Not to Bill: 3 Ways Law Firms Can Manage Costs of Hiring a Freelance Attorney

Law firms have several options for managing freelance attorney costs. First, the law firm may simply absorb the cost of the freelance attorney, perhaps in a contingency fee arrangement. Second, the law firm may treat the costs as a direct expense to the client where no markup is taken. Or third, recognizing the additional costs associated with hiring and managing the freelance attorney, the law firm may apply a surcharge to the freelance attorney’s fees and bill the client appropriately. Each of these three fee arrangements satisfies the requirements of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (“MRPC”). Most importantly, MRPC Rule 1.5(a) requires attorney fees to be reasonable given the circumstances of the attorney-client relationship. Further, the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility indicated in Ethics Opinion No. 08-451 that adding a surcharge for a contract attorney’s work is permitted as long as the fee charged is reasonable for the services rendered. The ABA Committee reasoned that such a profit is reasonable provided the hiring attorney supervises, directs, and reviews the freelance attorney’s work. In addition, just as law firms do not disclose how much they pay associates who work on a client’s legal matters, they are not required to disclose how much they pay a freelance lawyer. In essence, the key ethical obligation to billing clients for freelance attorney work product is reasonableness, which is demonstrated through the proper supervision of the freelance attorney and applying a reasonable surcharge for the law firm’s oversight. Hiring freelance attorneys is a convenient and practical way to solve temporary project staffing problems. Plus, if managed correctly, it is also a way to increase a firm’s revenue stream. Effective February 3, 2014, Susan has moved her law practice to the Environmental Law Group and is no longer working as a freelance attorney. You can reach her at swiens@envirolawgroup.com. MFAN...

Book Review: The Independence Track: How to Succeed As a Freelance Attorney

Looking for a gift for a new lawyer who may be curious about freelance work? In addition to The Freelance Lawyering Manual, you may want to check out the e-book The Independence Track: How To Succeed As A Freelance Attorney by Marina Modlin. Books aimed at starting a practice, whether solo or freelance, often assume you’re an experienced lawyer. Knowing how to practice is a real timesaver, but this presumption of experience leaves recent and new law school graduates out in the coldest part of a chilly market. Enter Marina Modlin. A 2007 graduate of USF Law, Modlin found herself unemployed at the height of the recession, and chose freelancing as a way to build skills and make contacts that eventually allowed her to start her own practice. The Independence Track offers the lessons Modlin learned and the tips and advice she has for new grads who want to work as freelance attorneys. Divided into 26 short chapters, the book discusses choices familiar to freelance attorneys and solos (where to locate, what to charge, whether to get malpractice insurance or use a corporate form). The second half of the book focuses on business skills that may be particularly helpful to new lawyers, such as networking, branding, client management, professional oral and written communications, and helpful resources. Two excellent chapters—on doing legal work for family and friends, and identifying problem clients—may prevent sleepless nights. Modlin developed a freelance business model as a “part-time, on-call, long-term attorney” who worked on-site at her clients’ offices and was available 24-7. She deliberately looked for opportunities to learn new skills under the supervision of more experienced lawyers, and was not afraid to supplement her legal work with paralegal or administrative work at the firm when it was available. “In the beginning of your career,” Modlin advises new lawyers, “your goal should not be to...

Why Accomplished Attorneys Choose to Work Freelance

Freelance attorneys are emerging from every corner of the legal profession, including big law firms, in-house counsel, government positions, and solo practice. Usually with five or more years of practicing law on their resumes, most freelance attorneys are established within the profession and have notable accomplishments to their name. So why choose freelance and forsake the support of colleagues, the financial security of a regular income, the satisfaction of directly managing cases, and the ability to climb a ladder to widely acclaimed professional success? The answer boils down to one word: freedom. Attorneys who work freelance want flexibility not available in most traditional career tracks in the legal profession. The need for a more flexible schedule can arise from a variety of personal and professional situations, including caring for young children or aging parents, starting or growing a solo practice, moving with a spouse who is required to relocate for work, starting or growing a side business outside of the legal profession. Attorneys seek out freelance work as a way to continue practicing law on their own schedules. The advances in technology during the past five years are driving force fueling the growth in freelance work: attorneys can work remotely on projects, anywhere and anytime. Freelance attorneys have taken advantage of new technology and used it to maximize their professional freedom. Of course, this freedom is not without a downside. Freelance attorneys must find their own work and maintain relationships with a variety of clients; otherwise they have no business, reputation, or income. Running a freelance law practice requires a great deal of motivation, self-discipline, independence, and smart business skills. But most freelance attorneys would agree that the toil and hustle of freelance work are worth maintaining and maximizing their professional freedom. Freelance attorneys may also be the wave of the future. Changes inside and outside of the legal...

Billing: How Freelance Attorneys Get Paid

The changing demands fueling the growth of freelance work in the legal profession are also causing the slow extinction of the traditional billable hour. Many legal scholars have declared the downfall of BigLaw and the rise in popularity of alternative billing structures. So where do freelance attorneys fall in the greater spectrum of billing for legal work? Freelance billing is a two-part formula: how much to charge (rate) and how to apply the rate (structure). Freelance attorneys set their rates based on several factors, including years of experience, geographic location, and type of freelance work being done. A freelance attorney with ten years of experience working in a large metropolitan area on brief-writing projects is going to charge more than a freelance attorney with five years of experience working in a remote location on document review projects. Generally, rates for freelance work need to be set lower than rates charged to direct clients by solo practitioners or law firms. Why? Because hiring a freelance attorney to work on part of a case or transaction needs to make good economic sense. The rate being charged by the freelance attorney needs to add value to completion of the case and cannot meet or exceed the ultimate fee being charged by the hiring attorney. A variety of billing structures are available, including hourly, flat rate, contingency, and everything in between. Billing structure is usually driven by two factors: the type of case and how the hiring attorney is handling the legal fee. If the hiring attorney practices criminal defense and is handling an appeal, then a freelance attorney might be offered a flat rate (portion of the fee paid by the direct client to the hiring attorney) to draft the brief. But if the hiring attorney practices business litigation and needs help with on-going discovery projects, then a freelance attorney might be...

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