There are many benefits to working with a freelance lawyer to scale your law practice or assist with your overflow legal work on a temporary basis, either through one-off projects (e.g., drafting a factum or reviewing a contract) or through ongoing occasional help (e.g., a few hours a week or month). By hiring freelance help, you avoid long-term commitments and costly overhead, and you get the help you need, only when you need it.
There are also many benefits to working as a freelance lawyer. You have greater flexibility over your work, including what work you take on, when you do the work and where you do the work.
Both hiring lawyers and freelance lawyers find it to be a mutually beneficial working experience.
However, having been in the freelance lawyer industry for almost 10 years, we have noticed that sometimes this type of working relationship is not as successful as it can be. Below are some lessons we’ve learned to ensure a successful relationship from the very beginning:
Vet the Freelance Lawyer / Hiring Lawyer
Sometimes hiring lawyers are so overworked and stressed that they hire the first freelance lawyer they find without conducting proper due diligence. To make sure you have a positive experience and receive excellent work product, you should confirm that the freelance lawyer has the experience and skill set you need to assist you with your files. Always ask for an up-to-date CV, one or two writing samples, and at least two references. Review their profile on the relevant law society website to ensure they are in good standing. Conduct at least one in-depth interview asking not only about their legal experience but also ask probing questions on time management, organization, communication skills, and response times. Speak directly with the references provided and ask questions directed at the freelance lawyer’s substantive legal skills. (Does this sound like a lot of work? Flex Legal takes these steps to vet all our freelance lawyers before they join our platform, so you don’t have to.)
Also, freelance lawyers may be eager to find new lawyer clients and decide to work for the first hiring lawyer that reaches out to them. Freelance lawyers should be conducting their own due diligence too, including an internet search and reviewing the hiring lawyer’s profile on the relevant law society website (check for practice status, disciplinary issues, etc.). (At Flex Legal not only do we do an internet search and check the status of the hiring lawyer, but we also solicit and compile reviews from our freelance lawyers. We will not continue working with any hiring lawyer that does not meet our standards.
A Freelance Lawyer is Not a Full-Time Employee
As mentioned, hiring a freelance lawyer instead of a full-time associate has many advantages including cost savings (no CPP/EI payments, law society/insurance fees, overhead costs, benefits, termination pay, etc.) However, it is important to remember that a freelance lawyer is not “on-call” and immediately available Monday-Friday, 9-5 like a full-time employee. We’ve seen hiring lawyers get frustrated when they email at 10am giving instructions for work that must be completed by the end of day and the freelance lawyer is unavailable. While this type of request may be 100% reasonable for a full-time associate that is committed to only working for one lawyer or firm for a full-time salary, freelance lawyers are independent contractors who have other clients and work that they must manage.
Hiring lawyers who provide adequate notice for work to be completed and are organized in managing their time and projects often have the best relationships with freelance lawyers. If a hiring lawyer needs immediate attention and a lawyer “on-call” five or more days a week, then a freelance lawyer may not be the best solution for that law practice.
Also, freelance lawyers should remember that freelancing does not come with a steady paycheque every two weeks, like with a full-time job. Law firms are businesses and invoices may not be paid immediately, some firms have a 30 day-60 day payment cycle. Be prepared for the fluctuation in work and payments.
Manage Expectations with Clear Communications
Both the freelance lawyer and the hiring lawyer should be prepared to discuss their expectations about the working relationship before any work is started. Often it is best to have this initial conversation over phone or Zoom so all questions can be answered quickly and in real time.
If the work is a one-off project, it is important to discuss expectations around the hourly rate or flat fee; due date; hours to be spent on the project; the format of the document; etc.
For ongoing occasional work, setting expectations up front is even more important. How much notice will the freelance lawyer need to complete the work? A day? A week? Are they expected to set aside specific hours for the hiring lawyer? For example, Mondays from 1pm-5pm? How long is the ongoing relationship? A few months? A year? Is the freelance lawyer or the hiring lawyer unavailable at certain times during the day to check emails or have phone calls? For example, after 5pm? Or, between 2pm-3pm? How often will the freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer have a “check-in”?Daily? Weekly? Monthly? etc.
Having clear expectations up front will help avoid any miscommunications or misunderstandings.
Get it in Writing
Once you’ve had that important conversation around expectations for both parties, and both parties agree to work together, get it in writing. Document your working relationship in a freelance lawyer agreement setting out the terms of the relationship and the scope of work (including everything you discussed in that initial conversation: hourly rate, hours of work, availability, notice, etc.)
It is extremely important to set out in writing the parameters of the working relationship for both parties from the start. The agreement can always be amended at a later date.
Have questions? Want to be connected with a freelance lawyer? What to become a freelance lawyer? Reach out: https://www.flexlegalnetwork.com/contact-us.html
Note: This article provides an overview only for informational purposes and does not constitute legal advice.
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