Have you ever wondered how you can become a freelance lawyer? Erin Giglia recently spoke for the American Bar Association’s Career Advice Series on “How to Become a Freelance Lawyer: Rates, Contracts, Legal Ethics and More.” She addressed starting a freelance legal practice, including setting rates, practical tips, pitfalls to avoid, and ethics issues.
Due to many questions from the audience, the ABA published Q&A with Erin Giglia on Becoming a Freelance Lawyer. Watch the webinar here, and see Erin’s responses to various questions below.
Q: If as a freelancer I have direct contact with client, is it prudent to be included in services agreement with client to have malpractice coverage?
A: The services agreement with the client may or may not affect coverage. If you want to guarantee coverage, then that is an issue the hiring firm needs to address with its insurance carrier.
Q: Can you recommend any organizations who place attorneys in secondment positions with corporations?
A: I am aware of Axiom, but I’m sure there are others.
Q: I also have a question. Do you have any advice on how to freelance for a recent grad living in a small town?
A: I addressed this at length during the presentation because this is the most difficult scenario. Firms want to hire experienced contractors when outsourcing projects because they need the work back in final or near final form, which is very difficult to achieve as a recent grad. You’re really better off finding a firm willing to train you with consistent projects. Consider working part-time for 1-2 small firms to gain experience.
Q: Do you find any ethical implications of advertising your services is states where you are not licensed/admitted to practice?
A: You’ll need to check the requirements in the relevant states, but probably not. As long as you are advertising to lawyers, and not to the public, then you should be fine.
Q: I’m sorry if you answered this (got on a bit late) – if you do not have the opportunity to work at a firm prior to freelancing, what other work experience could be helpful?
A: It depends on the area. If you have engineering experience, then that might be helpful for intellectual property or product defense, for example.
Q: If you are recent graduate from law school would you advice to start working as freelance lawyer right from the beginning or would you advice to work in law firm for few years and then get started on this path.
A: I advise getting experience in a firm first, and then transitioning to freelance.
Q: If you are registered in UBE states and USPTO but not in CA can you still work freelance work in CA?
Q: As a freelance lawyer, how do you handle paying the independent contractor tax? What is your experience having to pay that tax?
A: I am not a tax person at all, but essentially firms issue you a 1099, you report that income, and pay tax on it. I send my income information to my accountant, and then pay what I’m told I owe.
Q: How many BigLaw firms currently use freelance?
A: I don’t have this information, and am not aware of any source to obtain this information.
Q: Can you please repeat/confirm whether freelance work considered legal or non-legal based on ethics rules?
A: It depends on the task. If you are making an appearance, then that is considered “legal work.” The relevant ethics opinions conclude that ghostwriting is not typically considered legal work.
Q: What kind of package should a freelance attorney have ready to send to a law firm who might be interested in engaging them? Engagement letter? Rates? etc?
A: I would have a CV or other kind of bio, and a contract template. You can include your rate if you don’t want to negotiate it. This is a personal preference.
Q: What are some professional ways to be paid. Direct deposit? Check? PayPal?
A: These are all fine, and are just a preference between the firm and the freelance attorney.
Q: Is it advised to have multiple state bar admissions for freelance work as an attorney with 3-5 years of experience? (e.g. NY, CA, Colorado admissions)
A: If you’re already admitted in multiple states, then that may be an asset, but I would never recommend taking an additional bar exam unless you have a reason for doing so. For example, if you are admitted in Colorado but move to Oregon, then perhaps consider taking the Oregon exam.
Q: What areas are most in demand?
A: This varies by the day, but right now corporate and real estate transactions are in demand.
Q: Maybe you could address this toward the end, but suppose you are a graduated law student and not a licensed attorney, can you still do freelance work?
A: Yes, but getting hired may be difficult. I recommend finding a firm that needs a law clerk.
Q: what do you suggest to a new lawyer trying to build his own practice instead of working freelance for a law firm?
A: This is an entirely different topic. There are many resources at the ABA that address starting a solo practice.
Q: is the markup of fees permissible under ABA rules. or only California ethics rules?
A: As far as I know, Maryland and Texas are the only states that prohibit marking up fees.
Q: I’m not that great at predicting how much time a project should take. Is there a repository somewhere with estimated times for typical projects?
A: No, not that I know of. This is something you learn based on experience.
Q: Is LawyerName@gmail.com sufficiently professional?
A: Yes, to most people.
Erin practiced for eight years before she co-founded Montage Legal Group in 2009. Montage is a network of freelance attorneys who opted out of the traditional law. Erin is a frequent writer and speaker on legal outsourcing, work-life balance, women in law, networking, legal ethics and contract attorneys and has been featured in several media outlets. She has been recognized as one of OC Metro Magazine’s 2011 Top 40 under 40, and was honored with Enterprising Women Magazine’s 2014 Enterprising Women of the Year Award.
In 2014, Erin and Montage Legal Group were featured on Forbes.com in an article titled “How Two Stay-at-Home Moms Are Changing the Legal Industry.” In 2015, Erin and Montage were featured in “Disruptive Innovation: New Models of Legal Practice” by UC Hastings Work Life Law Center.
To read a recently published article written by Erin and Laurie on how growing firms can take advantage of freelance attorneys and Of Counsel positions: Stay Ethical While Growing Your Firm (Law Practice Today, July 14, 2017) .