Ever wonder what it is like to be a freelance lawyer (a lawyer who assists other lawyers, law firms, and in-house legal departments with their overflow legal work)? Our freelance lawyer Amy Grubb has written this informative blog post to give you a glimpse into a day in the life of a freelance lawyer:
As with most legal positions, no day as a freelance lawyer is ever quite the same. Here is a snapshot of a random day in my life as a part-time freelance lawyer.
5:30 am: I am not one of those people who presses the snooze button for another 45 minutes of shut eye. My alarm goes off and I am up. I figure part of this is because I never know when one of my kids is going to wake up so I might as well get going before chaos breaks out. I get dressed, check my emails and finalize and send out a freelance agreement to a new client. Believe it or not, there is no coffee for me. Ever. It’s just not my thing.
6:45 am: My little people are now rolling out of bed. This means it’s time to get breakfast ready (omelettes), get the kids dressed, make lunches and help my son fill loot bags for his upcoming birthday party.
8:40 am: I walk the kids to school. This is one of my favourite times of the day (especially now that the weather is warm). On this particular walk we discuss fossils and how they are made.
9:15 am: Gym. This is my “me time”. No work, no kids, no distractions. I then head home to shower and get to work (I have a virtual office and tend to work primarily from home).
Noon: I pick up my youngest from preschool. Now this is my favourite part of my day. She lights up when she sees me and gives me the biggest hug. Ahhhhhhhh, lucky me. We walk back home where I give her a snack and then she is off to bed for her afternoon nap. I then prepare lunch (shrimp and leftover veggie salad) and sit down with my husband (who also works from home) for a quick lunch.
1:00 pm: I continue on with the GDPR research outlined above. I also take care of some administrative tasks: confirm details of a conference call taking place later today, RSVP to a breakfast networking event and confirm client instructions on a file.
3:00 pm: My daughter is up and ready to go. We hang out for a bit before heading out to pick up the big kids from school.
3:20 pm: School run.
4:10 pm: Hang out with the kids. Today we are reading books and talking about what they did at school that day. Apparently my son was involved in an “epic” game of dodgeball. He tells me about every play in detail.
4:30 pm: My husband takes over with the kids while I jump on a conference call. It is a group call with a law firm that is planning to offer legal services to its clients through independent contractors, such as myself. I really think it is a great time to be an entrepreneurial minded lawyer. There is so much possibility and freedom to work in a non-traditional way than ever before.
5:45 pm: After the call, dinner is literally being put on the table. Yay for me! Hubby has made tacos with guacamole. Our dinner conversation with the kids revolves around birthday party plans, different types of cows and whether brown cows actually produce chocolate milk (some of us are still undecided on that one) as well as a vote on what food you like best among ice cream, pizza or smoothies (that’s a tough one for me but I think depending on where it is from I would have to go with pizza. It would have to be pizza from Windsor because it is the best).
6:15 pm: Tidy up the path of destruction that has been left behind by the kids. One of my kids was stuck with laundry for a chore this week so I showed him how to fold the clothes and put them away. I am pretty sure he pretended that it was too difficult so I ended up doing most of it. In the meantime, my husband helps the other with his homework and the youngest with making sure she didn’t stick her fingers in any electrical outlets.
7:00 pm: Bedtime for the kids.
7:15 pm: Grocery store run.
9:30 pm: I can’t lie. I record the Bachelorette weekly and am a die hard fan. No shame. Time to sit back and enjoy!
11:00 pm: Off to get some shut eye (with visions of fossils, brown cows and loot bags dancing in my head).
Thanks Amy for this informative (and entertaining) post! This is a great example of how freelance lawyers can provide quality legal work and excellent client service to sole practitioner, law firm, and in-house legal department clients, while still being engaged in other aspects of life. A number of our freelance lawyers do not have children, but have other responsibilities that require a flexible legal practice. Freelancing gives them this flexibility.
We also provide flexibility to you - our lawyer and law firm clients. We eliminate the need for you to hire a full-time associate or counsel (only hire us when you need us), save on overhead (we work remotely), and can give you more flexibility in your legal practice (off-load the work you don't want to do and keep the work you do!) If you are looking for a freelance lawyer to assist with your overflow legal work, please do not hesitate to reach out and find out how we can help you.
Many lawyers are aware that freelance lawyers can assist other lawyers and law firms with legal research, drafting, due diligence and other “behind the scenes” legal work. However, that is not all we do. Freelance lawyers can also assist with in-person court appearances, discoveries, cross-examinations, mediations, etc.
Often sole practitioners, or lawyers at smaller firms, do not have the luxury of asking the lawyer down the hall to step in for them should an emergency arise, or when they are double-booked. Flex Lawyers can be the lawyers you turn to, to act as your agent. Below are just some of the examples of how our Flex Lawyers have assisted other lawyers and law firms in the past:
Contact us to learn more about our court appearance services in Toronto.
The Difference between a Sole Practitioner and a Freelance Lawyer: 3 Points to Help Clear Up Some Misconceptions
As the legal profession is changing, new ways to practice law are emerging, including the option of practicing as a freelance lawyer.
While freelance lawyering is becoming more popular across the globe and in Canada, confusion still exists over what exactly a freelance lawyer is and does. The most common misconception we see? People equating freelance lawyers with “cheaper versions” of sole practitioners. This misconception has arisen in part by some solo lawyers offering their services to the public on general freelance platforms (alongside graphic designers, photographers, etc.) at extremely discounted rates creating some confusion in the freelance lawyering practice area.
To clear things up we have summarized below the three main differences between sole practitioners and freelance lawyers:
1) The Clients
The clientele is the most important distinction between a sole practitioner and a freelance lawyer.
Freelance lawyers only work for other lawyers, law firms, or in-house legal departments (normally large corporations). Unlike sole practitioners, we are not retained by the general public and do not provide legal advice directly to “non-lawyers” or what we refer to as “end-clients”. While technically we are all “sole practitioners” with our respective law societies (our governing bodies), this is only due to the absence of a “freelance lawyer” category on our annual reports, and “sole practitioner” is the closest category available to how we practice law.
So, those lawyers who offer their services on general freelance marketplace websites, are usually sole practitioners looking for work from end-clients (although not all), and they often offer their services at a lower or discounted rate. They use freelance platforms simply as another way to generate business from the public. Freelance lawyers do not look for work from the general public.
It is understandable why sole practitioners may be confused with freelance lawyers. In other industries (where freelancing or the “gig” economy has been embraced) freelancers are generally self-employed individuals, such as graphic designers or writers, who work for several clients on a project basis, as opposed to just one company. Like most lawyers (except for in-house counsel), sole practitioners also work for several end-clients as opposed to just one. However, freelance lawyers “gig” for several law firms and lawyers, as opposed to practicing as an associate or partner of one lawyer, law firm, or company. The difference, being, as noted above, that freelance lawyers work for other lawyers rather than end-clients.
2) The Nature of the Work
A sole practitioner will (generally) see the file through from beginning to end (i.e. from drafting the statement of claim to conducting the trial), unlike a freelance lawyer who may be called in to work on only one aspect of the file (i.e. to provide high level strategic advice, draft a pleading, review one contract, appear for one court appearance, etc.)
This distinction affects the length or duration of the work. For example, in civil litigation files can last for years. A sole practitioner's litigation files can be dormant for months and then blow up at a moment’s notice. Instead of juggling 100 files that may require attention at any moment, freelance lawyers focus on one or two assignments or projects at a time with clear beginnings and ends. This means our lawyer and law firm clients get 100% (or close to it) of our attention on their work project. Our lawyer clients are the ones juggling the 100 files, and we assist when they catch on fire.
Also, our lawyer clients always give us very interesting and challenging legal work. The instructions are very clear and well thought out. Having a lawyer as a client means a lot less emotional support and psychological hand-holding that sole practitioners may have to provide to their end-clients. Some of our lawyer clients have told us that they prefer providing that emotional support and hand-holding and are not that keen about the actual law. This is how, as a freelance lawyer, we can complement a solo practitioner’s or law firm lawyer’s practice. Our clients outsource the work they do not like to us, so they can focus on the work that they do.
3) Overhead and Trust Accounts
Most sole practitioners have an office, a legal assistant or law clerk, office equipment and furniture, etc. Freelance lawyers have very little overhead. We can work from anywhere, although most of us work from home, and often have paperless 'offices'. We have lawyer and law firm clients all over Canada and can communicate with them over Skype, phone, email, etc.
While some sole practitioners may also work from home and have paperless offices, one thing a sole practitioner does have (that freelancers do not) is a trust account. Sole practitioners will often take monetary retainers from their end-clients which must be kept in a trust account. Freelancers usually only bill our lawyer and law firm clients once the work is complete which eliminates the need for a trust account.
While freelance lawyers and sole practitioners have a lot in common, we do practice law in a different manner. Depending on his or her personality, a lawyer may be better suited for one type of practice over the other. Those of us at Flex prefer the freelance way of life!
Information on our services can be found here and if you have more questions please see our FAQs or click the link below:
While more and more law firms and in-house legal departments are using freelance lawyers for their overflow work, we are still often asked “What is a freelance lawyer” and “Why would I use one?” To help answer these questions, Flex Lawyer Heather Cross has written this helpful blog post “Seven Reasons to Hire a Freelance Lawyer”:
1. You need an associate, but not all of the time.
A freelance lawyer can act as your associate down the virtual hallway. Freelance lawyers can be a sounding board, perform legal research, prepare documents or edit your documents, but you don’t have to provide them with an office, a regular salary or steady work. They are just there when you need them.
2. You are not a bookworm (but we are).
You didn’t get into law to spend hours with your nose in a book or glued to a screen. You want to be in court, meeting clients and being part of the community. However, high-quality legal research and writing are an indispensable part of a successful legal practice.
Believe it or not, there are lawyers out there (like us) who actually enjoy scouring Westlaw for that gem of a case or spending a quiet afternoon typing out a factum. Hire them to help you out and you will be free to spend as much time out and about as you’d like.
3. You don’t know everything.
No one does. The legal world is a complex one, full of niche specialties. There is no way a lawyer can maintain a good understanding of every area of the law. When you run into an area in which you lack experience, hiring a freelance lawyer with the requisite expertise can make you look like a pro.
4. You want a competitive advantage.
You are juggling a million things, and chances are, whoever is acting for the other side is too. But you have an ace up your sleeve—a freelance lawyer who has time and energy to devote solely to developing a winning case for you and your client.
5. You want a life.
Looming deadlines, demanding clients, family obligations, and that pesky human need for food, exercise and sleep make running a legal practice challenging. Hiring a freelance lawyer can take some of the pressure off.
Don’t have time to prepare those application materials because you are in court all next week on another matter? No problem, hire a freelance lawyer to take care of it and you can focus on the case at hand.
Who knows? If you build a good relationship with a lawyer you trust, you could even go on vacation, knowing your work is in good hands while you are away. Mexico, anyone?
6. You want to grow your business.
A freelance lawyer can help you grow your business by:
7. Your clients can’t afford you.
If you have clients who struggle to cover your retainer, hiring a freelance lawyer can make your services more affordable and thus more attractive. Because freelance lawyers have lower overhead, they tend to charge less than the average lawyer. If you hire a freelance lawyer to take care of portions of your clients’ work and pass the savings on to your clients, they will find the process much more reasonable and be happy to pay your hourly rate to conduct the big trial or negotiation. Offering an affordable legal solution can help you attract and keep clients who would otherwise be unable to afford your services.
If you are interested in finding out more about freelance lawyers and their work, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our request for assistance form.
 If you are sole practitioner or in a small firm, having another person “on-call” can also makes potential clients feel more confident that you will be able to handle their matter.
 For example, if you need assistance with a criminal appeal, I am a great resource. I have worked on criminal appeals to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada for the past five years.
 Or, what the heck, just hire them to write the whole article or paper.
Ashleigh and Erin were happy to have a chance to talk to Bianca Thomas of the CBA's Women Lawyers Forum about Flex Legal's innovative role in providing lawyers with flexible work arrangements.
Bianca's article "Making Flex Time Work" discusses both the positive aspects and the possible misconceptions that employers (and law firms) may have about non-traditional work arrangements. The full article can be found here.
This is the 7th post in our series "How I Became a Freelance Lawyer" by our Flex lawyers. Today's post is by Carol MacPherson:
I have been a lawyer for over thirty years. I started my career as a junior partner in a three person firm, the first all-female firm in Mississauga in fact. When that disbanded, I joined a law firm in Toronto where I specialized in mortgage remedy law for several years.
I then decided to go out on my own. A friend who was a family lawyer in Mississauga had a spare office and invited me to set up my practice. I had always preferred the “solicitor” part of “barrister and solicitor” and to be sharing office space with a litigator worked out well. As my friend’s practice expanded, so did the space, and eventually there were seven of us sharing space, mostly family law lawyers and myself. I was the recipient of referrals from these lawyers in the areas of real estate and wills, indeed it became obvious to me that this was a very satisfactory way to set up a practice: concentrate on one or two areas of law and then give and receive referrals to and from lawyers in other areas of law. All the others in the shared space were also sole practitioners and this arrangement continued for many years.
Eventually I decided to “retire” from a full-time practice. I was interested in pursuing other interests, mainly obtaining a Certified Financial Planner designation. I also started teaching in the paralegal program at Sheridan College, something I had done at Humber in the early days of my practice.
My practice now consists of only Wills and Estates and real-estate work related to Estates, and I offer a “Mobile” service meaning I go to the client rather than the client coming to my office. This means that I can offer my legal services to people who either don’t have the time or the ability to travel. I find that being freelance allows me to work anytime anywhere and I love that flexibility and also the time to do volunteer work.
Carol assists lawyers and law firms with their over flow legal work in Wills & Estates (including real-estate work related to Estates). Find out more about Carol and her services here.
This is the 6th post in our series "How I Became a Freelance Lawyer" by our Flex lawyers. Today's post is by Gayle Wadden:
I became a freelance lawyer somewhat by accident, but my story is likely the same as many women who choose this path. I took the traditional path to becoming a lawyer – graduated with my law degree, articled and then found a job on Bay Street as a Research Lawyer. But, I had my first child six days before starting the Bar Admission Course, which meant that I started that Bay Street job with a four-month old. My husband was also finishing law school and began articling nine months after I started working. So, it was a bit of a crazy time.
After a couple of years of juggling, I decided I needed a change. I left Bay Street and spent four years working for the Children’s Aid Society. It was rewarding, fast-paced work. But, it was work that involved one piece of legislation, and after a while I felt like I had learned all that there was to learn. The work no longer felt as challenging, and I was again looking for change. Trying to find that elusive job that would give me professional satisfaction but still let me spend time with my family.
So, I ended up back at my original Bay Street firm as a knowledge management lawyer for the litigation department. I had left the firm on good terms and was very happy to be back. But sometimes life throws you curve balls. One of my children developed some health issues and it made sense for me to find work closer to home (I was commuting about an hour each way into Toronto). I started practicing corporate-commercial litigation at a smaller regional firm. After a couple of years, I realized that I needed even more flexibility. I left my job. For the first time ever, I was unemployed and not sure what I wanted to do.
I wanted to work, but wanted to do so on my own terms. A couple of months out, I was contacted by a former colleague who needed some help with a litigation file. That same week, I was contacted by a former client who needed a contract reviewed. Shortly after that, I was introduced to another lawyer who needed assistance, and then another. And before I knew it, I had my own practice. Initially I did some direct client work, but as the amount of work that I had for other lawyers increased, I stopped taking on direct client work. It has been just over a year since I took on that first project, and my only regret is that I didn’t make this change sooner.
Gayle assists law firms and in-house legal departments with legal research and drafting, litigation support, expert witness research, contract drafting, and legal content marketing (among other services). Find out more about Gayle here.
This is the fifth post in our series "How I became a Freelance Lawyer" by our Flex Lawyers. Today's post is by Lauren Heuser:
I have always loved reading and writing. It’s the reason I chose to do an undergraduate degree in English Literature and one of the reasons I chose to pursue a career in law. And heaven knows law school provided ample opportunity to do both.
Following law school, I articled and practiced at a Bay Street law firm for a few years. I learned a lot from the experience and really enjoyed it. But during this time, I also became very interested in journalism. In particular, I became aware that a number of journalists who I admired had transitioned from law to journalism, including Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist; Jeffrey Toobin, legal writer for The New Yorker; David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic, and Jonathan Kay, now editor-in-chief at The Walrus.
I was inspired by these writers to try a similar career path. I’m not sure, though, that I would have mustered the courage to leave my job had I not met Robert Steiner, the Director of a Journalism Fellowship at the University of Toronto, Munk School of Global Affairs. Rob had recently launched a journalism fellowship at the school that is geared towards individuals who are already professionals in some other discipline, and who are interested in writing on their area of expertise. I fit the bill completely.
I left my firm to participate in this eight-month fellowship. The fellowship provided a great training on how to communicate complex ideas to a public audience in crisp, interesting language. During this period, I began writing weekly columns for the National Post – something I continue to do to this day.
However, from the beginning of my foray into journalism, I always knew I wanted to keep one foot in the legal world. Writing is a solitary activity, which often expresses big ideas, and which can have an uncertain impact on the real world. By comparison, legal practice involves working with others, referring to established rules and processes, and delivering concrete outcomes. I knew I didn’t want to give up the latter, but I also knew I needed a flexible legal practice. Joining Flex Legal Network has provided a great opportunity to find this balance. As a member of this team, I have flexibility and freedom to develop as a writer while also serving clients’ needs.
Flex Legal Network's co-founders, Erin Cowling and Ashleigh Frankel, were honoured to participate on the panel for the Women's Law Association of Ontario and the Law Society of Upper Canada's 10th Annual Diverse Careers for Women in Law event last week.
Erin and Ashleigh were joined on the panel by Isfahan Merali (Tribunal Counsel, Consent and Capacity Board & Bencher), Sarah Leece (Assistant Crown Attorney, Ministry of the Attorney General), and Caitlyn Kasper (Staff Lawyer, Aboriginal Legal Services). The panel was moderated by the current President of the WLAO and this year's recipient of the Law Society Medal, Ronda Bessner. Each of these women brought a unique and interesting perspective as we tackled some probing questions about women in the law, our challenges, and choices. Erin and Ashleigh enjoyed meeting with many of the talented women who were in the audience and are happy that some have already reached out to Flex to continue the discussions started at the event.
Flex is delighted to be featured on the podcast "On The Record" by Hassell Trial Counsel. Ashleigh Frankel was interviewed by Mick Hassell about Flex Legal Network and how our freelance lawyers assist sole practitioners, firms, and in-house legal departments. The podcast can be found here.
On The Record also includes interviews with lawyers Karen McArthur, Darryl Singer, and Jack Fireman, as well as some tips on trial fundamentals and preparing for cross-examinations.
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