A Thorough Guide to Freelance Lawyering

What if you could have a law job that let you wear pajamas at noon, take extended trips to visit family and friends, and burn the midnight oil because that is when a great idea hits you? If that strikes a chord for you, then don’t even finish reading this post. Just head over and buy your own copy of The Freelance Lawyering Manual: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the New Temporary Attorney Market, by Kimberly L. Alderman.

The Freelance Lawyering ManualIf you wonder what qualifies Alderman to write this book, consider this: She built a successful freelance lawyering practice from the wilds of Alaska, with nary a lawyer, police officer or courthouse within hours of her. After completing a judicial clerkship in the U.S. Virgin Islands (where I once met her while giving a CLE presentation), she moved to Alaska to pursue her dream of remote living. “Freelance was the only way I could continue practicing law,” she writes. If she was able to do it from there, she can probably help you do it from wherever you are.

So just what is a freelance lawyer? Alderman offers this definition:

A freelance lawyer completes discrete assignments for attorney clients. She is a self-employed free agent, and
works from her own office. She rustles up her own assignments and invoices her attorney clients directly. Freelance lawyers are, in every sense, independent contractors and small business owners.

The first freelance lawyers were stay-at-home parents, attorneys in-between jobs, and semi-retired older practitioners, Alderman writes. In the last decade, however, the freelance lawyering market has changed dramatically. Even as the economy has driven many lawyers out of full-time jobs and into freelance lawyering, all 50 state bars and the ABA have now addressed the ethics of using freelance lawyers.

Alderman does not sugarcoat freelance lawyering. While she clearly enjoys the freedom it gives her from workaday drudgery, she cautions that it takes time — possibly years — to build a profitable freelance practice. You need to be self-motivated and happy working on your own. Getting lawyers to hire you will often be a hard sell and, when they do hire you, you may not get the types of matters that most interest you.

But if you are ready to take the plunge into freelance lawyering, Alderman’s 293-page book walks you step-by-step through how to do it. She gets into the nuts-and-bolts here, talking about which legal-research services to use, how to set your rates and bill your work, how to market a freelance practice, what form of agreement to use when you’re hired, and even how to manage your files.

Kimberly Alderman

Kimberly Alderman

There is also a section of the book directed to lawyers who may be thinking about outsourcing work to a freelancer. It covers topics such as why outsource, how to find the right freelancer, and how to address it with clients.

The final section of the book is devoted to the ethics of freelance lawyering. It covers supervision of freelance lawyers, confidentiality, malpractice concerns, screening for conflicts and billing for freelance services. Appendices include key ABA ethics opinions on freelance lawyering and a state-by-state summary of state ethics opinions.

The book’s preface is written by Carolyn Elefant, who, as founder of MyShingle.com and author of the book Solo by Choice, has demonstrated that she knows a thing or two about building a law practice. Both she and Alderman point out that, even as freelance lawyering has gained greater traction, there has been no comprehensive guide to assist freelance lawyers or hiring lawyers in understanding the practical and ethical issues involved.

Kimberly Alderman’s book not only fills that void, but does so comprehensively and intelligently. An added bonus is that Alderman is a darn good writer. Here is that rare legal practice guide that is actually a pleasure to read. Whether you are actually starting a freelance lawyering practice or merely daydreaming about it, you should buy this book.

You can get the book for $45 through either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

While you’re at it, check out Cultural Property & Archaeology Law News, the fascinating blog written by Alderman, who has now left the wilds of Alaska for the wilds of Wisconsin, where she is an assistant clinical professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

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  • Thank you SO much for your kind review, Bob! I really appreciate it! I’m excited about this project and can’t wait for more feedback to come in.

    Hope all is well in your end of the world. We’ve got gorgeous weather here in Wiscahnsin. 🙂

    Kimberly

  • Kimberly’s book is an excellent addition to the body of information already available to both prospective freelance attorneys and prospective hiring attorneys.

    However, I disagree with Kimberly’s opinion concerning the appropriateness of hiring a freelance attorney to perform work in a substantive area of law in which the hiring attorney lacks expertise. On p. 47, Kimberly says:

    “You may have heard the pitch that hiring a freelance lawyer who has a greater specialty in a given area of law is a good way for a practitioner to broaden the cases he can take. Well, this only applies to licensed freelance lawyers, as it is impossible to adequately supervise a freelance lawyer not licensed in the local jurisdiction when the freelance lawyer purportedly has specialized knowledge that the hiring attorney lacks.”

    Under the current Model Rules, an outsourcing lawyer has a duty to make reasonable efforts to ensure that a nonfirm lawyer conforms to the Rules of Professional Conduct, which impose a duty of competence. In my view, a lawyer who does not practice in a substantive area cannot adequately supervise even a licensed freelance attorney’s work in that practice area.

    Along similar lines, Kimberly quotes the following from ABA Formal Op. 08-451: “….In addition, the availability of lawyers and nonlawyers to perform discrete tasks may, in some circumstances, allow for the provision of labor-intensive legal services by lawyers who do not otherwise maintain the needed human resources on an ongoing basis.” She the comments:

    “Consistent with the ABA’s assessment, the primary reasons that attorneys outsource work to freelance lawyers are workload management (time), increasing revenue (money) and broadening the types of cases that they can take (specialization).” (p.132)

    “Some solos and small firm attorneys…cannot seem to find the mental space to take on a new subject area….

    The key is to find a freelance lawyer that has a complimentary skill set to your own. For instance, a hiring attorney whose skill set tends toward transactional work will benefit greatly by using a freelance lawyer to fill in the gaps in terms of litigation. This would allow the hiring attorney to keep transactional clients ‘in house’ even when they need him to handle a litigation case that he would otherwise feel reluctant to take on, due to lack of available time and resources to navigate yet another area of law practice.” (p.137).

    In light of the hiring attorney’s duty to ensure competent representation, Kimberly’s reading of Op. 08-451 is dangerously overbroad.

    This does not mean that a lawyer who lacks substantive experience in an area in which the attorney’s client needs representation is out of luck. In such circumstances, the attorney can bring in a licensed attorney with the required substantive knowledge as co-counsel. In a co-counsel relationship, each attorney has a direct attorney-client relationship with the client.

    Finally, Bob, I note that your statement that “all 50 state bars…have now addressed the ethics of using freelance lawyers” is inaccurate. Kimberly’s book identifies relevant ethics opinions from 28 states, and a tangentially related opinion from one state. However, because (1) the state and local ethics opinions are broadly consistent with each other and with the ABA’s opinions on this subject; and (2) all states have adopted the Model Rules (albeit with some variations), lawyers in states that have not spoken on the subject should be guided by those existing opinions.

    • Thanks for your insightful comments Lisa. On the 50 states issue, I got that out of the book. Kimberly writes on page 13: “All 50 state bar associations have now addressed how to ethically integrate the use of freelance lawyers into traditional practices.”

  • I believe that statement is inaccurate. Although Kimberly notes that her list of ethics opinions is not exhaustive, my own research has not identified relevant opinions in the remaining states.

  • By the way, for more about adequate supervision of outsourced legal work, take a look at “Defining ‘Adequate Supervision’ of Outsourced Legal Work” at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog today (http://tinyurl.com/79ovw65).

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  • There is no authority for the proposition that an attorney cannot adequately supervise work by someone who has a broader skillset and knowledge beyond their own. True, the supervising attorney must be willing to review the work and relevant case law, same as he would for any supervision project.

    This is a place where Lisa and I have disagreed for years now. The ethical opinions do not exist solely to limit practice, but instead to guide it, and I tend to believe that precautions can be put in place and procedures followed that ensure the competent practice of law, even while working with freelancers with a broader body of knowledge than the hiring attorneys. Obviously, each attorney needs to consult the relevant ethical rules in her state.

    This is no different than attorneys hiring an appellate specialist to draft briefs when they don’t know the first thing about appeals. Happens all the time.

    Just some thoughts. Glad to see a lively discussion!

    Kimberly

  • Oh, and as to which states have addressed the use of domestic legal process outsourcing, I came to that conclusion a while ago. However, it is not meant to imply that each state has a relevant and publicly accessible ethical opinion (such as those listed in the appendix of the book). If readers have a particular state in which they are looking for guidance, and no ethical opinions are listed in the back of the book, I’d always be happy to help.

    Kimberly

  • shg

    First, a review by Bob that makes sense. Then, comments by Lisa that make sense. My world is shattered. I need to reassess my life.

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