Reviews

A Thorough Guide to Freelance Lawyering, by Bob Ambrogi

What if you could have a law job that let you wear pajamas at noon, take extended trips to visit family and friends, and burn the midnight oil because that is when a great idea hits you? If that strikes a chord for you, then don’t even finish reading this post. Just head over and buy your own copy of The Freelance Lawyering Manual: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the New Temporary Attorney Market, by Kimberly L. Alderman.

If you wonder what qualifies Alderman to write this book, consider this: She built a successful freelance lawyering practice from the wilds of Alaska, with nary a lawyer, police officer or courthouse within hours of her. After completing a judicial clerkship in the U.S. Virgin Islands (where I once met her while giving a CLE presentation), she moved to Alaska to pursue her dream of remote living. “Freelance was the only way I could continue practicing law,” she writes. If she was able to do it from there, she can probably help you do it from wherever you are.

So just what is a freelance lawyer? Alderman offers this definition: “A freelance lawyer completes discrete assignments for attorney clients. She is a self-employed free agent, and works from her own office. She rustles up her own assignments and invoices her attorney clients directly. Freelance lawyers are, in every sense, independent contractors and small business owners.”

The first freelance lawyers were stay-at-home parents, attorneys in-between jobs, and semi-retired older practitioners, Alderman writes. In the last decade, however, the freelance lawyering market has changed dramatically. Even as the economy has driven many lawyers out of full-time jobs and into freelance lawyering, all 50 state bars and the ABA have now addressed the ethics of using freelance lawyers.

Alderman does not sugarcoat freelance lawyering. While she clearly enjoys the freedom it gives her from workaday drudgery, she cautions that it takes time — possibly years — to build a profitable freelance practice. You need to be self-motivated and happy working on your own. Getting lawyers to hire you will often be a hard sell and, when they do hire you, you may not get the types of matters that most interest you.

But if you are ready to take the plunge into freelance lawyering, Alderman’s 293-page book walks you step-by-step through how to do it. She gets into the nuts-and-bolts here, talking about which legal-research services to use, how to set your rates and bill your work, how to market a freelance practice, what form of agreement to use when you’re hired, and even how to manage your files.

There is also a section of the book directed to lawyers who may be thinking about outsourcing work to a freelancer. It covers topics such as why outsource, how to find the right freelancer, and how to address it with clients.The final section of the book is devoted to the ethics of freelance lawyering. It covers supervision of freelance lawyers, confidentiality, malpractice concerns, screening for conflicts and billing for freelance services. Appendices include key ABA ethics opinions on freelance lawyering and a state-by-state summary of state ethics opinions.

The book’s preface is written by Carolyn Elefant, who, as founder of MyShingle.com and author of the book Solo by Choice, has demonstrated that she knows a thing or two about building a law practice. Both she and Alderman point out that, even as freelance lawyering has gained greater traction, there has been no comprehensive guide to assist freelance lawyers or hiring lawyers in understanding the practical and ethical issues involved.

Kimberly Alderman’s book not only fills that void, but does so comprehensively and intelligently. An added bonus is that Alderman is a darn good writer. Here is that rare legal practice guide that is actually a pleasure to read. Whether you are actually starting a freelance lawyering practice or merely daydreaming about it, you should buy this book.

Some Beach, Somewhere – The Romance of Freelance, by Bruce Cameron

I have this recurring midwinter fantasy of buying a snowmobile, putting it on a trailer and heading off in a southerly direction until someone asks me “what in tarnation is wrong with that jet-ski?” The short days, cold nights, monochromatic landscapes, and mountainous piles of snow of the prairie winter are no doubt to blame for these visions of salt water, warm beaches, and a law practice run from beneath the shade of palm tree. Generally, reality (that pesky need to earn an income) quickly steps in to bring me back to the normal world and awaiting Persephone’s return, but this winter, fortune has allowed me to indulge in the dream just a bit longer (seems Demeter has gotten some help with those anger issues) by providing me with a copy of Kimberly Alderman’s new book: The Freelance Lawyering Manual.

The Freelance Lawyering Manual is the fruit of Kimberly’s career as a nomadic lawyer working from the wilds of Alaska to the beaches of the Caribbean and is the first manual to cover this revolutionary type of law practice. Freelance lawyering is not contract lawyering – Freelancers are seldom found in the dark, dank cellars of big law scouring over documents printed in that ubiquitous legal font “tiny, illegible”. These are not the hourly wage earning worker bees of the big law hive. Freelancers work from their own offices on a variety of matters billing their attorney-clients directly. They are independent lawyers running a solo practice complete with all the perks, benefits, overhead, and worries that come with running a business.

For those wanting to give freelance lawyering a try, Kimberly’s book lays out the good, the bad, and the ugly of freelance lawyering (ah, the cold hash light of reality begins to dawn). While the “what every freelance lawyer should know” section is presented in a very neutral way, it is quickly apparent that this is not a field for the novice attorney – if for no other reason than it takes time to build a client base. Kimberly concentrates on those issues unique to starting a freelance practice, glossing over some of the more rudimentary issues involved in starting a solo practice (for those, see Solo by Choice). I found her comments on money matters and client communication to be particularly insightful; it appears that attorneys pay for solutions (value) and not hours worked and that they appreciate being kept “in the loop” as to a project’s status – perhaps there’s a lesson in there for those of us working with regular clients.

The Freelance Lawyering Manual also covers what hiring attorneys need to know about freelancers and the ethics of freelance lawyering. Bottom line is that it is ethical and profitable to hire freelance lawyers – you just have to do it the right way. While the section for hiring attorneys is, for the most part, common sense hiring practices, the section on ethics is a brilliant, utterly readable distillation of some of the more mind-numbingly dull ethical opinions ever produced. Kimberly does a great job in laying out what you need to know when it comes to ethical concerns regarding supervision, confidentiality, malpractice, conflict screening, and billing.

My thanks go out to Kimberly for sending me a copy of the The Freelance Lawyering Manual. It brightened a few winter days and showed me a path to that beach chair.

Book Review: The Freelance Lawyering Manual, by Carolyn Elephant

I wrote the foreword for Kimberly Alderman’s new book, The Freelance Lawyering Manual in the hopes that law firms on one hand, and unemployed attorneys and re-entering parents on the other will take a fresh look at freelance lawyering in the 21st century.

Unlike most things in law — and life, freelance lawyering, represents a win-win for all involved. Lawyers, particularly those in solo practice and small firms benefit from outsourcing since it gives them access to well-credentialed talent that they couldn’t otherwise afford full-time. Moreover, by cutting out the middle-man of the placement agency (which can take up to half of the rates that law firms pay for contract lawyers) and retaining freelancers directly, lawyers can afford to hire newer graduates for basic tasks (such as researching blog posts, or acting as a gopher during a trial) while paying them a living wage. On the other side of the coin, newer lawyers who choose to freelance gain the benefit of flexible, varied work and can remain competitive and relevant at a time when many contract-based document review jobs are sent overseas or automated.

Unlike most things in law — and life, freelance lawyering, represents a win-win for all involved. Lawyers, particularly those in solo practice and small firms benefit from outsourcing since it gives them access to well-credentialed talent that they couldn’t otherwise afford full-time. Moreover, by cutting out the middle-man of the placement agency (which can take up to half of the rates that law firms pay for contract lawyers) and retaining freelancers directly, lawyers can afford to hire newer graduates for basic tasks (such as researching blog posts, or acting as a gopher during a trial) while paying them a living wage. On the other side of the coin, newer lawyers who choose to freelance gain the benefit of flexible, varied work and can remain competitive and relevant at a time when many contract-based document review jobs are sent overseas or automated.

After giving an overview of freelancing, Kimberly delves into the nuts and bolts; providing a range of rates that freelancers might charge as well as the types of costs they can expect to encounter (including legal research tools in some instances and malpractice insurance). This portion is one of the book’s strengths as there are so many questions about what to charge as a freelancer and Kimberly offers as much information as is possible in a book that will be read by freelancers in different locations (where rates can vary).

Likewise, Kimberly explains why it’s fair for hiring lawyers to mark up freelancers’ rates. I know that some freelancers begrudge the mark-up, feeling that lawyers are making money off their labor – but they fail to take into account the costs incurred by the hiring lawyers in terms of added insurance, supervisory and review time (some of which can’t be passed off to clients) and the marketing that goes into bringing in clients to begin with. In fact, the book includes a fairly thorough discussion of ethics, though it apparently went to press before the ABA Ethics 2020 that outsourcing pioneer Lisa Solomon covers here.

Kimberly reminds freelancers about the importance of protecting themselves in contractual arrangements. Sad to say, many lawyers are themselves unscrupulous and may not want to pay a freelancer until the client pays. Kimberly explains why a freelancers’ fees shouldn’t depend on the hiring lawyer’s ability to collect and most importantly, includes an extensive sample contract, as well as examples of informal “e-mail” agreements that freelancers can use with minimal modification.

Whether you’re interested in freelancing as a way to stay in the law or to lighten the load at your law firm while improving the quality of work delivered to clients, Kimberly’s book is an important — and most current and comprehensive — addition to the emerging body of work on freelance law. Whether you view freelancing as revolutionary as Kimberly does, or a newly branded version of a practice that always existed, as I wrote in the foreword, one thing’s for sure:

At a time when big law is crumbling and unemployment rates in the legal profession are at an all time high, many legal futurists and thought leaders view freelance lawyering as the future of the legal profession…. Just as freelance lawyering moves our profession forward from a stagnant, century-old business model of law firm partnership, freelance lawyering takes us back as well, to a time in our profession when lawyers worked together collegially and respectfully, young lawyers thrived on intellectually stimulating work instead of drudge work, and everyone made it home in time for dinner. Freelance lawyering can revive the best of our profession’s past as tomorrow’s possibility.

Highly Recommended — A must-have for any new freelance lawyer, by Charles Gurd

This book, The Freelance Lawyering Manual, should be read by any attorney who is considering practicing as a freelance attorney or who has already begun his freelance career. Kimberly Alderman writes clearly and concisely. Probably one of the most important chapters of this book is the second one in which Kimberly identifies the pros and cons of this type of legal practice and encourages individuals to think carefully about whether they even want to practice as a freelance attorney. Then she gives practical tips on how to set up a freelance practice and provides valuable information for both the freelance attorney and those attorneys who may need to hire a freelance attorney. Thus, the book is valuable for both those seeking to become a freelance attorney and those who seeking to hire one. Another valuable piece of information is the sample Freelancing Contract that is contained as an appendix. This book is one of those rare books — this reviewer has read many books written for the new and established attorney — that should be read by anyone who wants to practice as a freelance attorney before he or she even starts his practice.