Freelance Attorney Work: Is A Written Agreement Required?

IndependantContractorAgreementThe 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 be saved and referenced at a later date. Ultimately, having something in writing—regardless of the level of formality—is advisable and preferred.

Effective September 10, 2014, Emerald has accepted a position with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings and is no longer working as a freelance attorney. You can reach her at

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4 Responsesto “Freelance Attorney Work: Is A Written Agreement Required?”

  1. Karin Ciano says:

    Thanks Emerald for this excellent summary. I’ve found the greatest flexibility by having a “master agreement” that governs the default terms for all projects, and mentions that terms requiring modification for each separate project (usually scope of work, deadlines, compensation and expenses) will be agreed upon by email. That way, when someone sends me repeat business outside the scope of the original project, I don’t have to ask them to execute another agreement.

  2. Emerald Gratz says:

    Also see the Lawyerist post regarding freelance work agreements:


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