Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A definitive textbook on contract and freelance lawyering

The concept of contract lawyering is foreign to many in the legal profession, but it doesn’t have to be anymore. In the most comprehensive book I have found to date on contract lawyering, "The Complete Guide to Contract Lawyering, What Every Lawyer and Law Firm Needs to Know About Temporary Legal Services" by Deborah Arron and Deborah Guyol, you can get a solid understanding of this segment of the legal industry.

The “Complete Guide” begins with a short history lesson about the structural development of the legal profession in the last century, and how the trends of “the megafirm and the billable hour, advances in technology, and individual lawyers' rejection of the existing law practice model" have lead to the growth of today’s market for contract legal services.

Using real life examples, the book looks at each side of the equation – what contract lawyers should know, and what hiring lawyers should know – and concludes with a section of joint concerns such as ethical issues, labor laws, and malpractice concerns.

For potential contract lawyers, exercises help the reader determine whether contract lawyering is right for them, and then talks about marketing, setting rates, finding work, and staying in business. The pros and cons of staffing agencies are also discussed.

“Contract work is not the right solution for every unhappy lawyer. But it’s not fraught with horrors either. As with most choices in life, real benefits coexist with definite disadvantages.”

Likewise for law firms, the book separates myth from reality, and then walks through the steps necessary to find and appropriately use contract lawyers to augment one’s practice. One of the featured attorneys is Trisha Mathers, a 41-year-old solo practitioner who had been working 15-hour-days and only making a moderate income. By coincidence, she got pitched by a contract attorney just when new motherhood and pneumonia were pushing her to the brink. She liked his work and soon had four contract lawyers working for her on various aspects of her work, allowing her to provide better service to her clients and earning a “very respectable living” while working an average of 30 hours a week.

I had some disagreement with the authors on terminology. Their hallmark criteria for contract work is being of a “temporary” nature, even though the book discusses both working for staffing agencies and working for yourself. For NAFLP, there is a bright-line distinction between “contracting” (working as an employee of a staffing agency) and “freelancing” (working for yourself). Even casual research shows a much higher level of job satisfaction among freelancers vs. temporary/contract workers. Despite the terminology, however, the book does give plenty of examples of lawyers making a permanent career of contract/freelance work.

I consider this book an essential textbook for anyone who wants to learn the basics of contract or freelance lawyering, or wants to enhance their freelance practice.

In fact, I was so impressed with the “Complete Guide” that I contacted the publisher to get a special rate for NAFLP members. Go directly to the publisher’s site - http://www.decisionbooks.com/ - to order this book and identify yourself as an NAFLP member, and you can get the book for $27.00 + free shipping. (NAFLP doesn’t get any money out of this; we just want you to have the opportunity to read this book.)

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