Platforms for Freelance Attorneys Make Their Way to the Mainstream

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As attorneys become less attached to the idea of staying with one corporation or decide to take time off, freelancing may be the model for the future.

Corporations and their legal departments are under pressure to cut costs and find ways to maintain a high-quality level of work. The solution going forward may be to use platforms that connect corporate legal departments with freelance attorneys for more of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks.

“We combine best-in-class tech with high-quality attorneys to handle their high-volume or recurring needs. A lot of things like nondisclosure agreements and vendor agreements,” Ben Levi, co-founder and chief operating officer of InCloudCounsel, explained.

InCloudCounsel, which offers a platform for freelancers to do high-level repetitive legal work for corporations, operates generally in the financial industry, Levi explained. He said heads of legal departments are used to their lawyers sitting nearby.

“You have to explain to them that it is someone who used to sit in a big building downtown or they used to be doing all of this work at a much higher rate. And through the use of some software tools, we’ve been able to connect you guys in a way that makes things go much faster,” Levi explained.

There is also the question of the vetting process for a freelance attorney. Gary Tully, the head of legal operations at Gilead Sciences, said he would prefer to hire an attorney he could fully vet himself.

“There are cost-conscious companies who do just need a lawyer to take a look at something,” Tully said. “I think there is a market out there for it, I just don’t see it being large corporations.”

Tully said if he were to ever consider pitching the use of freelance attorneys, the level of vetting would be extremely important.

“There is a level of vetting required even at the entry level. That’s why I think when we hire a law firm, if we’re using second-years, we expect a level of training and indoctrination into this type of work that the law firms provide,” Tully said.

Kristin Tyler, the co-founder of Lawclerk, said attorneys who hope to provide freelance services through Lawclerk must submit a resume, a biography and a writing sample. The attorneys then receive a grade from Lawclerk, which hiring corporate attorneys can see.

Levi explained that at InCloudCounsel the vetting process includes multiple interviews, a background check, a mark-up test of a document and bar status. He said the results of the vetting process are made available to whoever is hiring the freelancer.

“We want to make sure that our brand is synonymous with quality in the same way that a brand-name law firm is synonymous with having quality attorneys,” Levi explained.

The freelance model has appeared to have been embraced, Tyler said, with her company testing Lawclerk For General Counsel, a platform for corporate legal departments to hire freelance attorneys that will launch in the spring.

As the workforce changes and younger attorneys become more interested in taking time off to start a family or pursue other endeavors, the freelance model will likely grow, said Byron Buck, senior corporate counsel at Caterpillar Inc.

“It’s good and I think it’s probably going to get even better,” Buck said of the industry. “I think companies in a number of industries, as they learn and struggle with how to engage the new workforce, are going to find [platforms that offer freelance attorneys] to be a useful tool.” Buck  noted his opinions do not reflect that of his company.

Levi said he believes the market for freelance attorneys will grow in the future.

“Our goal as a company is to provide value to both clients and to attorneys. On the client side, we think that our model that adds technology to a platform of freelance workers means that we are able to offer clients a way to do this work faster, better and cheaper,” Levi said. “On the attorney side, we really want to provide attorneys an alternative way to do legal work or to practice in a way that makes sense for them.”