Freelance attorneys: Planning for a more flexible legal career
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Freelance legal work offers new possibilities for corporate attorneys interested in a more flexible career path. Advances in technology, combined with a greater openness to flexible work arrangements, allow a talented freelance attorney 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 attorneys 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 attorneys 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, attorneys are now able to take on flexible work arrangements while practicing law for some of the world’s leading companies.
However, not all corporate attorneys possess the skills and traits that are critical to a successful freelance career. In order to succeed, attorneys 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, as a freelance attorney, you don’t have an established firm with a large support system and reputation to rely on, so impeccable client service and communication is of critical importance.
Freelance legal work may also 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. Additionally, most freelance attorneys learn the ropes by working in an established practice for a period of time, gaining valuable training and experience that can gain them expert, specialist 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.
So, for a variety of reasons, flexible legal work as a freelance attorney becomes more realistic as a secondary path, after an attorney has served in a traditional law firm setting for a period of time following law school. And, unlike the traditional law firm setting, the freelance path provides attorneys the autonomy to structure their personal and professional lives as they see fit. If they decide that more time is needed to care for family commitments or to pursue other life passions, freelancers have the option of adjusting their workload. Whether you’re a new parent, an aspiring entrepreneur, or someone who prefers a less demanding work schedule, freelance work allows attorneys to design a truly flexible practice.
How to prepare for a career as a freelance attorney
For many corporate attorneys, 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:
- Become a specialist in your craft. Remote law jobs require a combination of client awareness, responsiveness, and relevant experience. Big Law 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.
- Familiarize yourself with legal technology. Technology plays a central role in flexible legal work. Since not all Big Law 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 management and contract data extraction software.
- 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 partnering with alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) to secure a steady stream of work and get access to resources that help alleviate some administrative burdens and 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 attorney can take the skills they honed in the corporate world and work with world-class clients, but on their own terms. Furthermore, partnering with an ALSP such as Ontra can give you a flexible, remote work arrangement with top-tier clients while caring for some administrative tasks such as billing. Interested in learning more about work opportunities with Ontra’s remote network of expert corporate attorneys? Click here to learn more.
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