By Julia Claire
Special to the Legal
Once, firms marketed their “collegiality” to law students and laterals. A culture of staking out territory on a rigid bell curve wouldn’t attract top talent. As the legal economy has become more desperate, some are adopting a “gunner” mentality to make a newly emerging career option appear attractive: The independent (indie) attorney, which I will define as “a lawyer who works on a project basis untethered to one firm.”
An aspirational campaign attempts to put indie attorneys into two categories: “contract” and “freelance.” According to the blog of one freelance organization, they must distinguish themselves from contract attorneys; this term is associated with “attorneys who have not be able to get hired law firms [sic].”
An ABA article frames freelance law as an option for those who have the means to be full time-moms and very selective about the types of legal work they take, but nonetheless wish to keep their legal skills sharp. Under a heading of “No Scrubs,” it explains that contract attorneys are “cheaper attorneys” for “low-rate document review and appearances” which only require “a body with a law degree.”
Another freelance organization explains that contract attorneys work for an agency and freelance lawyers work for themselves. Beware! Confusing the two undermines freelance lawyers because “contract attorneys are treated as second-class citizens both in terms of law firm atmosphere, mentoring opportunities, and the perception of their resume for future jobs.”
Setting aside the inaccuracy of these statements and why attorneys choose certain indie options at various points in their careers and lives, branding a scarlet “C” hurts self-proclaimed “freelance lawyers” — and the entire indie attorney movement. Marketing a software service (not an agency) to law firms that helps a wide spectrum of indie attorneys directly connect and contract with law firms and legal departments, the term freelance lawyer was met by blank stares or silence. “Contract attorney” was quickly understood to describe all types of indie attorneys — regardless of the type of work or the nature of their contract with the firm. This should be one of many incentives for all indie attorneys to work together to promote solutions to help our peers and our profession. Because, sometimes, a little bit of stigma can rub off on the very hands that created it.
Julia Claire is a co-founder of Hire an Esquire which enables law firms and legal departments to locate, manage, and pay local and contract counsel with ease online. In addition to practicing law, she has taught legal writing as an adjunct professor in Temple Law's International LLM Program and as an online lecturer at Quimbee.com.