Freelance lawyers are planning for more flexible legal careers

May 16, 2019

Freelance legal work offers new possibilities for corporate lawyers interested in a more flexible career path. Advances in technology, combined with a greater openness to flexible work arrangements, allow talented freelance lawyers to practice corporate law from locations of their choosing and at an ideal work volume — tremendous benefits for individuals who require nontraditional work options.

But while flexible legal work can give lawyers the freedom to choose how much time they spend practicing law versus pursuing their other passions in life, the freelance route also presents several unique challenges. It can be difficult, especially with little or no post-law school experience, to build the type of professional network needed to successfully freelance.

Vital experiences like filing quarterly taxes or even simply adjusting to being a work-from-home lawyer are competencies lawyers need to learn before freelancing. Additionally, larger functions like business development and strategy must also be learned to sustain a career in freelance legal work.

The path to freelance legal work

For those who are well-suited and ready to take the leap to flexible legal work, freelancing offers a multitude of benefits. Bolstered by advances in legal technology, lawyers are now able to take on flexible work arrangements while practicing law for some of the world’s leading companies.

However, not all corporate lawyers possess the skills and traits that are critical to a successful freelance career. To succeed, lawyers need to have excellent communication and high responsiveness to their clients’ needs — the same kind of skills that are often honed in a large law firm setting. Additionally, freelance lawyers don’t have an established firm with a large support system and reputation to rely on, so impeccable client service and communication are critically important.

Freelance legal work might not be a viable option for inexperienced attorneys fresh out of law school for a variety of reasons. Most law school graduates are saddled with a substantial amount of debt and look to high-paying jobs at top law firms as the fastest way to pay off their debt. They learn the ropes by working in an established practice for a period of time, gaining valuable training, experience, and in-depth knowledge in specific practice areas. In addition to offering guidance to newly minted attorneys, law firms also provide access to valuable legal resources (e.g., Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis, etc.) that can otherwise be cost-prohibitive for solo legal professionals.

Often, flexible legal work as a freelance lawyer becomes more realistic as a secondary path, after an individual serves in a traditional law firm setting. And, unlike the traditional law firm setting, the freelance path provides lawyers the autonomy to structure their personal and professional lives as they see fit. If they decide they need more time to care for family commitments or pursue other life passions, freelancers have the option of adjusting their workload. Whether they’re a new parent, an aspiring entrepreneur, or someone who prefers a less demanding work schedule, freelance work enables lawyers to design a truly flexible practice.

How to prepare for a career as a freelance lawyer

For many corporate lawyer, independent legal work represents a logical step forward in their career progression. However, success as a freelance lawyer involves much more than simply hanging a shingle. To achieve your goals, you will need the right mix of experience and knowledge. Here are some suggestions:

1. Focus on your craft

Remote law jobs require a combination of client awareness, responsiveness, and relevant experience. BigLaw experience can be very useful for landing high-quality clients, and experience in specific contract types (e.g., NDAs, joinders, etc.) is vital. In many cases, successful freelancers specialize in routine legal work that can be easily outsourced to remote talent.

2. Familiarize yourself with legal technology

Technology plays a central role in flexible legal work. Since not all BigLaw firms have fully embraced the latest advanced technologies, you may need to branch out to learn what legal tools and platforms are at the cutting edge in the industry.

By tapping into resources outside your firm, you can gain additional insights about what legal technologies you may encounter as a freelancer, such as document processing, contract management, and contract automation.

3. Build and maintain a network

When you work as a freelance lawyer, you serve as your own business development apparatus and are even responsible for some administrative tasks. For these attorneys, contacts and a healthy network are essential for landing steady work, and additional resources may be necessary to help handle administrative tasks. Many freelancers are now turning to alternative legal service providers to secure a steady stream of work and get access to resources that help alleviate some administrative burdens, so they can stay focused on practicing law.

Freelance legal work can be a rewarding, more flexible alternative to working at a traditional law firm. With the right network, dedication, and entrepreneurial spirit, a freelance lawyer can take the skills they honed in the corporate world and work with world-class clients on their own terms.

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