Freelance Lawyer vs. New Associate: Which One Do You Need?

June 16, 2022

While growing a legal practice and receiving more business are usually positive steps for solo practitioners and small law firms, it can lead to an overwhelming amount of work. At some point, you may need to acquire more help either by hiring a new associate or using the services of a freelance lawyer. Both options have their pros and cons, making it challenging to decide which one you need.

What is a Freelance Lawyer?

A freelance lawyer is an attorney that generally works as a 1099 contractor for another attorney. You don’t hire them to be part of your firm, and they aren’t considered an employee. You can hire a freelance lawyer directly or through a platform. They are paid to complete legal projects either at an hourly or flat fee rate. Freelancers can perform various types of work, such as:

  • Appearance work: Going to court on behalf of another attorney. To do this type of work, the freelance lawyer must be licensed in the state where they make the appearance.
  • Written substantive work: Includes research, document review, discovery, or drafting documents needed for motions, writing briefs, or drafting contracts. 

Anything that you need another attorney to do, a freelance lawyer could do for you under your direction and supervision.

One benefit of hiring a freelance lawyer is that it affords more flexibility. You aren’t committed to providing a set number of hours per week or even consistent work. However, a freelancer won’t have the same unique understanding of your firm’s systems and processes the way a hired associate would after receiving training. As such, it’s imperative that you provide a freelance attorney with clear and concise instructions.

When is it Necessary to Hire a New Associate? 

Freelance lawyers can fill immediate and problematic gaps, but sometimes it is necessary to hire a new associate. How do you know when that time has come? When you have a consistent need for help and regularly find yourself overwhelmed. 

Do you have a consistent 20+ hours per week of work you could hand off to someone else that would allow you to focus on growing the firm? If the answer is yes, it’s likely time to look for a new associate attorney to add to your firm. If not, you might be able to use a freelance lawyer for piecemeal work. 

Hiring a new associate is a process. It will take some time for you to find the right attorney for the job and get them onboarded. However, this significant time investment will pay off in the long run if you hire the right attorney. After they receive training and become familiar with your firm and its processes, they won’t need regular instruction and supervision as a freelance attorney would.

Suppose you’re experiencing a relatively brief uptick in work that will eventually die down. In that case, you may want to stick with hiring a freelance attorney for now. However, if you are experiencing a consistent and sustained increase in work, now is likely the time to look for someone to add to your firm. Regardless of which option you choose the problem of needing help, and then being able to afford help, is a good one to have for small law firms. 

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