What Should You Pay a Freelance Lawyer?

February 10, 2012

Solo and small firm attorneys are often hesitant to search for a freelance lawyer because they don’t know what it will cost. Just as there is huge variation in qualifications from one freelance lawyer to another, there is similarly huge variation in terms of cost as well.

If you place an ad in search of a freelance lawyer, you would be best off not to name an hourly rate. If you name a low hourly rate, then you may drive away qualified and efficient freelance lawyers who are worth an extra $25 per hour. If you name a high hourly rate, you might get a deluge of responses from potential freelance lawyers with varying qualifications and abilities. It would be better to narrow the applicants by qualifications, not price.

Once you have identified a freelance lawyer who meets your qualifications, ask what her rate is. Whether this rate is acceptable will depend on the local market and your particular situation. If you are hiring someone to work on a case where you will bill out her time to the client with a markup, you will be able to afford more than if you are asking someone to help you with practice materials or on a case where you are working on contingency.

I will speak very broadly as to prices, basing my observations on what I have incidentally observed during my four years of freelance lawyering. The lower prices I have seen for freelance lawyer services have been those offered in low-end advertisements (e.g., Craigslist) placed by solo or small firm attorneys seeking assistance, offering between $20 and $30 per hour. I have serious doubts that those hiring attorneys are successful in finding qualified freelance lawyers at those rates. I have seen recent graduate freelance lawyers advertise rates just above that, from $35 to $50 per hour. I have observed experienced and specialized freelance lawyers with established practices charging $100 per hour and more. If this sounds like more than you would have to pay an associate, it is! However, with employees, you have other expenses, such as social security tax, unemployment insurance, increased malpractice insurance, and overhead for workspace and equipment. You also have to pay associates even when work is slow, and this is not the case with freelance lawyers.

What you should pay your freelance lawyer will depend on your local market. If you had a pool of potential freelance lawyers from your initial search, look at their marketing materials (even if those materials constitute mere ads on Craigslist) and see if any of them have rates. Read local advertisements by freelance lawyers and solo and small firm attorneys seeking freelance lawyers and see whether any specify hourly rates. Ask around; can any other local attorneys speak to how much freelance lawyers are charging? Finally, get some price quotes from a few different freelance lawyers and compare what you can get for X dollars versus Y dollars.

Do not get too worried about this process. It is most important to find someone you can work with and depend on. If you find a freelance lawyer to do a job for $40 an hour instead of $75, but the relationship causes you added stress such that you hesitate to ask her for assistance in the future, you will miss out on the opportunity for greater short and long-term revenues. Even if you only mark up a freelance lawyer’s time by $40 per hour (which would be a very low markup, comparatively), there is a huge opportunity for future growth and continued profit, so long as you find the right freelance lawyer.

This post is adapted from the author’s book, The Freelance Lawyering Manual: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the New Temporary Attorney Market (2011).

Solo and small firm attorneys should contact me by email or phone at 608-620-3529 to schedule a free consultation.

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