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A Resource for Lawyers in Crisis

At our last meeting, MFAN welcomed Joan Bibelhausen, director of Minnesota’s Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL), to speak with us about resources for lawyers in crisis. Founded in 1976, LCL provides confidential support to law students, attorneys, and judges who are experiencing mental health, addiction, or other behavior problems. Managing crisis often seems to be part of practicing law. We believe we must to step into our client’s problem and resolve it dispassionately and objectively, no matter how unreasonable the client’s expectations. Yet it’s easy to take on too much, and can be hard to know how to respond when everything catches fire, especially if we are already experiencing stress or anxiety in our personal lives. Not surprisingly, lawyers are 3.6 times more likely than nonlawyers to suffer from depression. The prevalence of mental illness itself is not news. Yet at a time when over 9% of the population has a diagnosable personality disorder, many people—including lawyers—feel stigma about seeking help. LCL is part of the solution. And because freelance attorneys often get a call in moment of crisis, it helps to be aware of resources available to us and to the attorneys we help. MFAN had the opportunity to hear about some of the terrific services LCL provides, including a 24-hour crisis line; a confidential assessment and up to four counseling sessions free of charge; referrals for further services, including assistance with practice interruption and closure; resources for depression, anxiety, addiction, problem gambling, bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, stress, relationship and family problems, financial difficulties, and work-related problems; and coaching for coworkers, family, and friends who may be concerned about a loved one but are not sure how to help. LCL’s services are available to Minnesota law students, attorneys, and judges and their immediate family. The staff includes attorneys, licensed mental and chemical health practitioners, and a...

For the Love of Emergency

What I do as a Freelance Attorney and Why As a freelancer, my job is to put out fires. No, I don’t run into burning buildings and save lives; but I do step into a crisis and resolve it, quickly. Most of my projects arise from complex cases at a watershed: probable cause challenges in criminal cases, summary judgment motions in civil, appeals in both. The two most common reasons why other attorneys bring me in are because 1) the case requires exhaustive research and thorough briefing, or 2) the deadline is imminent. Or sometimes both, as was the case with one of my very first freelance projects: writing a respondent’s brief on appeal. The other side had raised a baker’s dozen of issues, challenging everything from the standard of proof the trial court imposed, to the constitutionality of the statute itself. The no-further-extensions deadline was 10 days away when the respondent’s attorney realized she couldn’t get the brief done in time. She called me. I reviewed the record, researched the issues, and wrote the brief. The attorney met her deadline. When the court’s opinion came out—in our favor—it quoted passages from my brief verbatim. Occasionally, I get asked to research novel or unsettled areas of law in less urgent matters: whether an insurance company can bring a malpractice claim against an attorney it provided its insured, despite the lack of a direct attorney-client relationship; whether Facebook can be required to remove an offending page; whether criminal statutes prohibiting gambling—penned decades before the Internet was a gleam in DARPA’s budget—also encompass online poker. In one case, I was brought in to force a resolution in a shareholder derivative suit that had been languidly unfurling for three years. I targeted procedural deficiencies; a week after I filed the motions, the case settled. I admit, I am an adrenaline junkie and...

Delegating a Project to a Freelancer

Attorneys, let’s just say you have too many projects on your desk. Having work is good; being overwhelmed is not. A freelance attorney can help. If this is the first time you have considered hiring a freelancer, it doesn’t take long to learn about the insurance, billing and ethical considerations, and prepare your practice to use a freelancer. But even if you have a project that needs urgent attention, you can still use a freelance attorney. Here’s how: 1. Select a project that you can assign to a freelancer. Research and writing projects are good places to start. Litigators can delegate many components of their work. If you have a transactional practice, start with outsourcing the preparation of a particular document. 2. Locate a qualified freelance attorney. Ask questions about their qualifications and business practices. Use good delegation practices from the outset to ensure a successful relationship with your freelance attorney. 3. Inform your client of your intent to hire temporary help on their case. Assure them that you will be supervising the freelance attorney and that you, not the freelancer, will be the one making the judgment calls. Advise your client how the cost of the freelancer’s time will be passed on to them. 4. Agree on contract terms that define the relationship between you and the freelancer. In order to streamline any future assignments, it can be helpful to use a master agreement and discuss project specifics by email. 5. Disclose client and party names to your freelancer to allow for a conflict check. 6. Discuss project details and deadlines. Set a deadline for the freelancer’s work to be returned to you, giving yourself adequate time to review and revise. 7. Make file materials available to your freelance attorney. Pay attention to current best practices within your jurisdiction for sharing electronic data. In general, it is best...

Five Easy Steps to Get Your Law Firm Ready for a Freelancer

Don’t wait until you are slammed with work to get help: you and your practice will benefit from the peace of mind that comes from having a go-to freelance attorney ready to step in to help with your practice. Whether you need someone for a particular type of project or because of a unique situation in your practice, the following steps will prepare your office to smoothly incorporate freelance legal help when the time is right. 1. Add language to your retainer agreement that informs your clients that you may use temporary legal help if it will benefit their case. Talk to new clients about how this will work in practice. If you have questions about the process or the necessary steps to ensure compliance with the ethical rules, feel free to call one of the MFAN attorneys to ask! 2. Find a freelance attorney (or two) that fits with your practice. Ask for any information you need to know to feel comfortable incorporating their help into your practice. In locating a qualified freelance attorney, you can start by browsing our own freelance attorney directory, asking colleagues about who they have used for freelance or contract assignments, or contacting a matchmaking service such as Custom Counsel. 3. Consider the contract terms that you would like to incorporate into an agreement with your freelance attorney. Discuss with your chosen freelance attorney(s) the use of a master agreement that can be drafted in advance and then finalized for the specific project. 4. Discuss malpractice insurance coverage with your freelance attorney. If he or she doesn’t have a separate policy, ask your malpractice carrier what can be done to ensure that the work is appropriately covered. 5. Discuss potential billing arrangements with your freelance attorney. Find out what billing structures your freelance attorney will consider, and discuss what billing options make the...

Vetting a Freelance Lawyer: Questions to Ask, Answers to Expect

Whether you’re searching for freelance help on your own, or interviewing candidates recommended by a matchmaker, these questions may reveal whether a freelancer is a good fit for your project. 1. Where are you admitted as an attorney? If you call yourself a freelance attorney, you should be an attorney. That means J.D., bar pass, admission to a state bar, no current suspensions, keeping up with CLE requirements, and following ethical obligations. These should be straightforward questions to answer (and verify); if you hear discomfort or evasion, or if anything doesn’t check out, pass. 2. Do you freelance exclusively? Some do, some don’t. If the attorney is also a sole practitioner, consider whether you’re marketing to the same client base. Freelance attorneys understand stealing clients is a no-no, and are comfortable working in the background without direct client contact. 3. Do you have malpractice insurance? Some do, some don’t. If they don’t, ask your carrier about how to ensure coverage. 4. Do you check for conflicts? One right answer: Yes. 5. How long have you been freelancing? Listen to how they talk about their work; it will give you a good sense of their experience, maturity, and judgment, all of which hint at how much supervision will be needed. 6. What kinds of projects have you worked on? You’re listening for relevant experience, enthusiasm, and discretion. The freelancer should be able to convey clearly what they did, while protecting the identities and confidential information of everyone involved. They should also be able to give you references. 7. Do you ever subcontract tasks to others? Some do, some don’t; it may depend on the project. If they do, they should be comfortable talking in general, hypothetical terms about when, why, how, and to whom. If you don’t get the sense confidentiality will be protected, conflicts checked, and tasks adequately supervised,...

Using a Freelance Attorney to Cover Parental Leave

Planning for the addition of a baby or small child to a household is time filled with both joy and anxiety. The question of how to maintain and temporarily transition work or professional obligations weighs heavily on the mind of many people, especially attorneys. Attorneys at big firms, small firms, solo practices, and in-house legal departments all face the same struggle of finding coverage for their cases, transactions, and projects while they are out on parental leave. Sometimes colleagues can temporarily shoulder the burden of overseeing and working on extra cases. But what if that is not an option? Another solution is to contract with a freelance attorney to cover parental leave. Whether an attorney going out on parental leave needs litigation projects completed, transactional work done, court appearances covered, or just another attorney to monitor mail and handle any emergencies, there is a freelance attorney out there who can help. Most freelance attorneys focus on a niche practice area and offer their expertise to other attorneys needing help with a related case, transaction, or project, on a short-term or long-term basis. An attorney seeking help to cover a parental leave period can look for a freelance attorney with experience in his or her practice area. Once a freelance attorney is found, a written freelance work agreement can be put into place to cover all necessary parameters of the working relationship. Many options for billing arrangements exist, including an hourly rate where the freelance attorney is only paid if help is needed. And the peace of mind that comes with knowing that an experienced freelance attorney is willing to step in and cover tasks is free! Although it may seem daunting, finding assistance for the duration of the parental leave is more easily attained than some attorneys think. Being proactive and organized can lead to a great working relationship...

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