Becoming a Freelance Lawyer: The Pros, Cons, and How to Get Started
So you want to hang out with your shingle and become a freelance lawyer? That's great! There has been a dramatic increase in people striking out independently and going freelance. In an Upwork study, the share of non-temporary freelancers grew to a new high: The percentage of non-temporary freelancers' workers rose from 33.8% to 35.0% from 2020 to 2021. And this growing freelancer cohort is highly educated and skilled, just like you.
Your freelance gig as a lawyer may also be called contract lawyering. What makes a freelance lawyer freelance as opposed to a solo practitioner? Well, that all depends on whom you are servicing. Generally, solo practitioners work with non-legal clients from beginning to end of a matter, and they have an IOLTA trust account. Freelance, or contract lawyers, work for other lawyers, typically helping out on specific issues, and are not required to maintain a trust account as their work is highly transactional.
Hired by law firms or other legal offices as independent contractors, freelance lawyers do not directly represent clients. Instead, freelancers do everything from documentation reviews to discovery, practice law, and legal research.
As a freelance lawyer, you can choose your clients, set your rates, and work from home (or anywhere else in the world). It sounds ideal, but it takes some planning and a high tolerance for risk. Read on to find out how to become a freelancer, what to expect, and give you tips on how to be successful.
Becoming a Freelance Attorney
You're not alone if you're interested in freelance attorney work. Contracting as a lawyer has been gaining popularity for some time, and the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have accelerated the boom in freelancers. Working as a freelancer lawyer has several benefits, including personal (working remotely to be with family) and professional ones (reducing burnout and demanding caseloads).
Meanwhile, law firms and in-house counsels looking for contract help have their pick of highly qualified, experienced, and, in many cases, specialized attorneys. Generally, contract lawyers will be less expensive to a law firm or company than hiring outside counsel. With a demanding increase in legal work over the last two years and headlines like "Gartner Survey Shows Corporate Lawyers Exhausted Since the Pandemic," let's just say the opportunities for contract lawyers have grown immensely.
What Do Freelance Lawyers Do?
Firms with smaller legal staff can rely on the services of freelancer lawyers and paralegals for legal services to reduce their need for hiring additional full-time workers. Freelance lawyers usually work with the law firm or company legal department directly, or the freelancer may work through a legal freelancing platform.
Freelance attorneys work in numerous practice areas on projects, including:
Appearance work. Freelance attorneys may be hired as appearance council to go to court (for example, going to hearings) on behalf of another lawyer. The freelance lawyer must be licensed in the jurisdiction where they're making the appearance for this type of role.
Written substantive work. This could include research, document review, discovery, or drafting documents. Think motions, writing briefs, or contracts. You may even write law firm marketing blogs.
What Freelance Attorneys Might Earn
Lawyers can work independently on legal assignments either for a flat fee / or hourly basis.
The Benefits of Going Freelance
One of the main benefits of freelance lawyering is the flexibility it offers. Lawyers can set their hours, work from home, and choose the cases they want to work on. This can be an excellent perk for parents who wish to spend more time with their children or people who want to avoid office politics.
Setting Your Schedule
You can set your office hours and are no longer beholden to the M-F:9-5. This can be an excellent perk for parents who need to work around childcare schedules or for people taking care of sick relatives.
Setting Your Capacity
You can take on as many or as few cases as you want. You can go at a more relaxed pace, or you want to jack up the volume to 11. Test out what works for you, and get some systems to make sure you can handle your work.
You Get to Choose Your Clients and Projects
As a freelancer, you can be choosy about whom you work for and easily avoid or decline demanding clients or cases you're not passionate about. This can be a refreshing change from working at a law firm. You get to choose projects that engage and interest you. Taking on different types of work is a great way to get exposure and continue upskilling and learning.
Working from Anywhere with the Internet
You can work from your couch, home office, a coffee shop, a plane to Italy, or a beautiful Italian villa. You know, work wherever the wind takes you. Two reality checks and mental health notes on this point: 1) don't feel bad if the most exotic location you work from is your local library using their free wifi; and 2) just because you can doesn't mean you should work during your vacation.
The Challenges You'll Face as a Freelancer
Freelancers offer more flexibility than traditional job roles. However, it can also be challenging to maintain a work-life balance. When you're your boss, it can be easy to get wrapped up in work and forget to take breaks. It's important to set boundaries and make time for yourself, or you'll burn out quickly.
Consider Your Financial Overhead
You're responsible for your expenses, including health insurance, malpractice insurance, and business licenses when you're self-employed. You also need to set aside money for retirement and savings.
In the beginning, your income will be unpredictable, so plan accordingly. It's recommended to have about six months of savings before striking out on your own.
It's fantastic that you could work as much as you want, but there are no assurances about how much—or what type of—work you'll be offered. The technical term in freelance jargon for this is feast or famine.
Less Administrative Help
Unlike your law firm job, you won't have the valuable assistance of firm staff. The good news is that with the gig-economy opening up for all of the legal services, you might just find a freelance paralegal whom you could team up with for some projects.
Depending on where you fall on the introvert/extrovert scale, this last one could swing either as a pro or a con: there is no office banter when you freelance. Maybe that is just what you wanted, some peace and quiet to focus solely on work during working hours. Or perhaps you find that working for yourself can be lonely without your favorite coworkers' slack pings and check-ins. If you miss it, consider working from a co-working office once a week to get your fill of office coffee and water cooler chat.
Basics of Your Setting Up Your Freelance Attorney Practice
List the essential elements for an independent lawyer. Many lawyers who want to start an independently based law firm have good ideas for this. How can I start my legal career as a freelancer?
Find Your Niche as a Freelance Attorney
The business of law is becoming ever more specialized. Clients no longer hire one attorney for all of their legal matters, they hire an attorney that has experience and training in a specific area. As a freelance lawyer, it’s crucial to develop and hone your experience. Focus on the areas in which you excel as a lawyer, and your career will blossom. Don't be afraid to tout your experience, knowledge, and skill. As you develop a reputation as having expertise, you can charge more for your time and make more money.
And while it is obvious, it is worth saying. If you are doing work you like and are good at, you will find more enjoyment in your freelance career. So, avoid spending time in areas you dislike, have no experience, or have no interest in. Whether document review or complex tax work, being yourself and doing what you are best at is key to finding freelance fulfillment.
Get Malpractice Insurance
You're responsible for your expenses, including health insurance, malpractice insurance, and business licenses when you're self-employed. Malpractice insurance is an essential step in becoming a freelance lawyer. It protects you from any legal action that may arise due to your work.
There are several malpractice insurance providers for lawyers, so shop around to find the best rate. Use your local or state bar association resources to find the best malpractice insurance for you-- you can start with the American Bar Association's FAQs for malpractice insurance. Be sure to read the fine print of any policy you're considering, as there may be limits on the type of work you can do or how much coverage you have.
Have a Written Freelance Work Agreement
A freelance work agreement is a document that outlines the specific work to be done, the agreed-upon compensation, and the expectations of both the freelance lawyer and the hiring firm.
It is important to have a freelance work agreement in place to avoid confusion about the terms of the engagement. The document can serve as a guide for how the work will be completed and help resolve any disputes that may arise.
Consider Your (Minimalist) Tech Stack
You do not need much to start with, just set up shop with your laptop and an internet connection. As you start, keep your overhead as small as possible. You can always upgrade later. Consider software that will make the business run smoother and your quality of life better, like accounting software or a client relationship manager.
Some basic software that is pretty necessary for a small business and that you can find for every budget is: a Word Processor like Microsoft Office or opt for Google Workspace, Accounting Software, a Client Relationship Management (CRM) Software, and Project Management Software.
As you market your business and network, you will thank yourself for setting up a CRM that automates scheduling appointments and email follow-ups and offers e-signature solutions. That's a lot less administrative work you need to do manually.
Develop a Business Plan
As with any business, it is important to have a plan for how you will market your freelance law practice. A freelance business plan will outline how you will market your services, how you will find clients, and how you will bill for your services. It will also identify your target market and how you will differentiate yourself from other lawyers. The plan should also include goals and how you will measure your success.
Find a Mentor
Big law firms benefit from structured mentoring programs, but that doesn't mean you can't find a mentor as you set out to freelance. A mentor can guide starting and growing your freelance practice, advise you on contracts, and refer clients to you. Use your network to seek out a mentor.
Set Up a Website (and a LinkedIn)
A website gives you a professional presence online, and it also allows potential clients to learn more about your services and how to contact you. A website can be fairly inexpensive, and you don't need a lot of technical know-how. You can purchase a "turn-key" website from WordPress, SquareSpace, or Wix. Be sure to include a clear description of your services and your contact information on your website.
You should also set up a LinkedIn profile and make sure it is up-to-date and includes a summary of your experience and skills. LinkedIn is a great way to connect with potential clients and referral sources.
Marketing for Freelance Lawyers
Now that your business plan is in place, it's time to start marketing your freelance law practice. There are several ways to market your business, including online and offline methods. You’re going to need an effective marketing plan to get clients as a freelancer. The end customer — big firms and private lawyers — may influence the marketing strategy, but the same principles apply to every freelance lawyer.
Some of the most effective marketing strategies for freelance lawyers include:
Creating a website
Writing content as a thought leader in your niche area
Using social media to network and share articles
Adding profiles to online directories
Speaking at events
Networking is one of the most important things you can do as a freelance lawyer. Attend local bar associations meetings, join an online legal group, or even start your own networking group. Get connected with other professionals in your area and exchange referrals. When you do land a new client, be sure to follow up with them and ask for a referral.
As a freelance lawyer, it's important to make sure your online profiles are polished and professional. This will make it easy for hiring attorneys to find you online, and it will help you stand out from the competition. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date and includes a summary of your experience and skills. You should also include a link to your website and any articles or whitepapers you have written.
Ask colleagues and clients alike to leave reviews on your LinkedIn. You can also highlight any positive feedback from clients on your website. When you are just starting, ask your old colleagues to write about their experience working with you. Social proof on your website and online profiles can help attract new clients.
Join Online Directories
Another way to market your freelance law practice is to join online directories. Sites like FindLaw, Nolo, and Avvo allow potential clients to find attorneys in their area who practice the type of law they need. These directories also provide a space for customers to leave reviews.
Where to Find Work as a Freelance Attorney
According to Finances Online, more than 70% of freelancers find jobs through online markets, gig economy websites, and freelance platforms. Platforms connecting freelance lawyers can help with client searches without worrying about paperwork or guesswork.
LAWCLERK provides freelancers with tools and software for a successful freelance website and is considered a top freelance site. It handles tax reporting, hiring lawyers, and paying fees. This platform also offers a secure document library for securely sharing files.
Although it does not focus on attorneys, FlexJobs remains the most valuable freelance website in the field of law. The firm provides more than 32,000 employment opportunities to 49,000 firms through its freelance platform. It's a hands-down leader in the flexible and remote employment search markets worldwide. FlexJobs spends more than 100 combined hours reviewing clients every day for the best opportunities, and this verification process makes FlexJobs the best choice.
Lawyer Exchange hopes to bring the gig economy into the legal field by combining lawyers' jobs with highly qualified and experienced legal professionals. Lawyer Exchange's unique selling point is the availability of accessible legal professionals from all disciplines. If you have gotten into the legal profession recently, many career options are available and you can easily start a new project, and gain real-life experience.
UpCounsel leverages the newest and most advanced technology to create an excellent freelance website for lawyers. Freelance lawyers have freedom in choosing client projects, while clients choose a law firm based upon their proposals.
The platform team includes former Big Law professionals, corporate lawyers, and engineering staff. Freelance legal professionals looking for jobs will feel very comfortable in the platform solutions that offer flexibility and geographic independence. InCloudCounsel provides freelancers with the freedom and flexibility required to do as much work as possible in their schedule while working at their leisure.
Montage Legal Group
Montage Legal Group offers clients the opportunity to choose an attorney with an extensive law and judicial practice background. Montage Legal is an excellent freelance legal website with a high entry barrier. The website connects lawyers who hold high academic credentials and graduate degrees at universities, including Harvard Law and Georgetown Law, to freelance lawyers.
LegalBee is a free website that provides legal advice to lawyers in their transitional careers. It defines itself as a law firm specializing in hiring attorneys in permanent and freelance positions within law firms. Founded in 2010, the freelance firm dubbed 'hive' is the company's name for the team that provides various legal services for individuals who need help with a scheduling conflict.
Jon Younger, Forbes. The Freelance Revolution Is Just Getting Started: Key Trends In 2022.
Feb 1, 2022
Upwork. Upwork Study Finds 59 Million Americans Freelancing Amid Turbulent Labor Market. December 8, 2021
Sharon Miki, Clio. How and Why to Become a Freelance Attorney. Feb 16, 2022
Talitha Gray Kozlowski, LAWCLERK. How to Become A Freelance Lawyer & Start Making Money. Sep 15, 2021