Freelance Lawyers in the Gig Economy

If you’re a Millennial, you must know someone who has a side hustle, or at least have heard that semi-obnoxious term, The Gig Economy. This article gives some insight into the kinds of opportunities lawyers have in a freelance-driven market, as well as the benefits and burdens to be aware of in pursuit of ‘gigs’.

Investopedia states, In a Gig Economy, temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend toward hiring independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees. A gig economy undermines the traditional economy of full-time workers who rarely change positions and instead focus on a lifetime career.

This one goes out to all the Millennials: Let’s talk about ‘the gig economy.’

Basically, the gig economy came into full-force during the Great Recession, and it has been defined as “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.” Employers love it – it allows them to pay contractors without worrying about benefits, unemployment issues, or other duties they would normally owe regular employees.

Of course, there are critics and those with (viable) concerns about labor rights – but for better or for worse, the gig economy is here to stay for the time being.

For lawyers, this means that they have the opportunity to be more creative in how they run their practice than ever before. While there are still plenty of traditional law office jobs, flexible and digital offices are starting to become more prominent, particularly with Millennial attorneys (and clients).

It makes sense – most lawyers who have a few years of practice get the nerve to hang up their own shingle. They become their own bosses anyway – so why not supplement that income with some freelance work, or segue into doing that work full-time?

Kinds of ‘Gigs’

Some of the work available to lawyers in the gig economy often depends on your jurisdiction; however, speaking from personal experience, I have gotten a vast amount of work primarily from other lawyers.

Solo practitioners work hard for the money. They often have only one secretary or paralegal, meaning the bulk of the complex legal drafting and discovery preparation can fall to them, and there are only so many hours in a day.

An independent contractor that is a licensed attorney can take over these tasks, freeing up time for the firm owner to attend court, meet with clients, and maybe catch up on Black Mirror. As long as the firm owner is competently supervising that attorney, it does not matter if they are licensed in another jurisdiction.

Other small firms are often in need of writers with knowledge of the legal industry for their blogs, landing pages and websites. I work steadily with digital platforms and law firms to develop unique web content, SEO optimized content, and even 10x pieces that are intended to drive traffic to their website. If you are a quick learner and savvy with basic computer marketing, working as a freelance legal writer for firms can be a great source of supplemental income.

Pros

Often, it can be cheaper for attorneys to farm out their work. Freelance attorneys are able to charge a lower hourly rate because their overhead is significantly less. Many work from home, and do not have to pay a staff or office rent.

As long as you have a computer and a good Internet connection and phone line, freelance attorneys can work anywhere on a shoestring budget. In some jurisdictions, lawyers can even recoup the lowered costs by still charging their clients for work done under their hourly rate. So, for example, if Jane hires Sarah to do a motion for summary judgment, then Jane can still bill her client $200/hour, even if Sarah has only charged her $90.

However, it is important to note that not all jurisdictions allow this – so you need to make sure you do your research on the professional rules and regulations of your own state bar.

Of course, the biggest benefit for a freelancing attorney is the flexibility of schedule. You can often work remotely – so if you’ve ever wanted to travel for extended periods, a freelancing gig might be right up your alley. You can set your own hours, and rearrange your schedule to allow for more personal time.

Many young mothers have taken advantage of the freelancing world to allow them to spend more time at home with their young children, without the cost of child care and without having to sacrifice the development of their career.

Cons

One of the biggest pros to freelancing is also a con – flexible work schedules. Being a freelance attorney requires incredible discipline in meeting deadlines, communicating and billing clients, and finding clients – although, when you think about it, it’s not that different from the daily duties of a practicing attorney anyway.

I can recommend several resources online about becoming a freelance lawyer: Practicing Law Without Client by David A. Robinson and The Freelance Lawyering Manual: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know about the New Temporary Attorney Market by Kimberly L. Alderman.

Freelance work is not for everyone. But for lawyers who are burned out from traditional law practice, or are looking for that “side hustle”, it offers plenty to think about.

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