What is a freelance attorney?

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As the legal profession evolves to meet the demands of the marketplace, the freelance attorney has emerged, riding on the cutting edge of change.  Although “freelance” is a term easily understood in connection with other occupations, there seems to be confusion when pairing “freelance” and “attorney” together.  So what is a freelance attorney anyway?  A freelance attorney is an independent contractor who is hired by other attorneys to handle legal work on a temporary contract project basis.  Simply put, freelance attorneys are in the business of helping other attorneys.

Some of the confusion stems from the historical understanding of a contract attorney.  Generally, a contract attorney is an attorney who is employed by an agency to review documents for a low hourly wage.  In contrast, a freelance attorney is a skilled and experienced attorney who can independently research legal issues, draft briefs, manage discovery, or even consult on litigation strategy.  Freelance attorneys focus on a niche practice area and offer their expertise to other attorneys needing help with a large case, transaction, appeal, or some other unique project.  The relationship between the hiring attorney and the freelance attorney is symbiotic and premised on flexibility. The hiring attorney uses the services of the freelance attorney only when needed to handle additional business or difficult projects without hiring another full time employee. In turn, the freelance attorney provides the necessary support and quality end product while enjoying flexibility in scheduling and working hours.

A freelance attorney is not the same as a solo practitioner.  While an attorney with a solo practice represents direct clients, the clients of a freelance attorney are law firms, in-house counsel, and solo practitioners themselves.  A freelance attorney provides work product that the hiring attorney uses as part of his or her representation of the direct client.  Hiring attorneys, not freelance attorneys, are ultimately responsible for the client’s representation and related ethical obligations.

The idea of a freelance attorney may be new and novel right now, but it won’t be that way for long.  Times are changing in the legal profession, and freelance attorneys will contribute to the future of cost-effective, efficient, and competent representation.

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 emerald_gratz@hotmail.com.

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