What corporations and law firms need from today’s practitioners.
If you’re an attorney who thinks contract work is something to be avoided like the plague, I’m here to share a few reasons that might make you want to reconsider. Contract work isn’t just doc review anymore. Our Contract Legal Solutions Group specializes in placing qualified, well credentialed attorneys in a wide range of substantive, long-term assignments, including secondment arrangements with in-house legal departments in a variety of corporations.
Contract attorneys certainly existed pre-2008, but the recession jumpstarted a strong trend and for several reasons it’s here to stay. Hiring contract attorneys helps big firms stay profitable by keeping their bill rates competitive with smaller firms. Similarly, it helps smaller firms compete by expanding their bandwidth and temporarily matching the resources of large firms. And corporations are able to manage spikes in activity without adding to permanent overhead costs.
This dynamic in the market means the types of projects available to attorneys seeking contract work are extremely varied. As mentioned, it’s not just doc review, and it’s also not just 40 hours in a cubicle ghost writing motions. We staff part-time positions, work-from-home positions, flexible schedule positions, and many other types of projects that many attorneys aren’t even aware are available. It’s a whole new world for attorneys, and even paralegals, particularly those with a corporate/finance background or who can leverage their large-firm backgrounds to land projects requiring previous experience with transactional work or complex commercial litigation.
Fulfilling personal goals while meeting market demand
As the legal industry forges ahead post-recession, corporations and law firms across diverse industries and practice areas continue to need well credentialed attorneys open to contract assignments. Law firms are commonly in a position where they don’t want to commit to hiring full-time attorneys, but they have work that needs to be serviced. Some are turning away work they could be handling if they had an extra attorney. Although corporations and law firms continue to hire permanent staff, they are pivoting from the traditional hiring model to the flexibility and benefits of bringing on substantive-level contractors.
Professionals are finding great satisfaction in the nature and sophistication of contract work – from bumping elbows with partners at boutique firms where they can help take cases from inception all the way through trial, to negotiating tech agreements with in-house legal departments, assisting finance groups at Am Law 50 firms with all aspects of complex finance transactions, and much more. On the in-house side, paralegals and transactional attorneys with experience in drafting, revising, and in some cases single-handedly negotiating tech agreements can easily transition from long-term project to long-term project, gaining experience in a variety of work environments and continuing to build up their résumés.
The flexibility component is huge for legal contractors
I love speaking about contract work with attorneys who are starting their own practices. Since it can take time to ramp up clients and get your firm off the ground, contract work can supplement your income and increase your experience as you build your practice. If you’re a budding solo practitioner fresh out of a law firm position, contract work allows you to keep your brand focused. You don’t have to take cases outside your wheelhouse and can focus on developing clients within your practice. Steady, long-term projects keep the lights on, and when the time comes, you have flexibility to simply give notice and leave an assignment to focus exclusively on your firm.
On the corporate side, in-house work gives attorneys exposure to employers for both temporary and temporary-to-hire positions, and contract work in general checks a lot of boxes for attorneys who are new to the job market or need a way to fill in the gaps. It’s a great fit if you’re between positions. Attorneys land projects at law firms and corporations that ordinarily would not consider them as permanent hires. Those who prove themselves and produce high-quality work are often considered for full-time roles. If this doesn’t happen for you, you still have recent experience to reference during interviews, which makes you more appealing to hiring partners and companies. Additionally, if you just left a 70-hour-week associate role and want to take it easy for a while, part-time or full-time contract work can keep you busy, your résumé sharp and paychecks coming in as you plan your next career move.
Can you make a career as a contractor?
Yes, it’s possible, but extremely context-dependent. Factors include your career goals, your financial aspirations and priorities, the nature of work you want to do, and whether you have a skill set or background that will continue to be in demand. For example, an attorney with 10+ years of M&A experience from a large firm who wants to go this route will never be without work. On a related note, it’s not just about contract work itself, but also what it gives you the freedom to do. A number of attorneys I’ve known for years have side businesses or artistic aspirations and other interests they could not pursue while employed full time. These life goals are entirely feasible with the flexibility that substantive contract assignments allow.
There’s really no downside to contract legal work
Again, the stigma is fast disappearing for attorneys who do contract work. As long as you’re able to fold contract experience into your career narrative (recruiters should help you with this!) when speaking with hiring partners or corporate hiring executives, there’s not much of a downside. Contract work gives you opportunities to explore options, gain experience, sharpen the experience you already have, and give yourself invaluable on-the-job exposure to hiring companies.
Substantive contract work isn’t going away, and while it will take time for many firms and corporations to realize the benefits and incorporate contractors accordingly, it behooves the savvy attorney or paralegal to be aware of the types of opportunities out there, and be open to the upsides these positions offer.
Based in Los Angeles, Wade Greiten specializes in placing attorneys in long-term, substantive contract assignments with law firms ranging from solo practitioners to Am Law 100 firms, as well as in-house legal departments.
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