Contract Lawyer: Get the Most Out of Your Gig

After a month in the trenches of the legal world—a contract lawyer assignment (document review) at a large law firm in Los Angles—I’m pleased to report that it exceeded my expectations by a long shot.  Granted, those expectations were quite low.

Around a year ago, when I still had some of my savings from BigLaw, I scoffed at the idea of working as a contract lawyer project for a number of reasons: (1) It didn’t pay much, ranging from $29-40 an hour (which is exactly why it makes sense for firms to do more outsourcing than hiring; (2) it was a full 40-hour workweek (which I never want to go back to); and (3) it is mind-numbingly boring. As it turns out, the contract lawyer experience was rather positive.

Get in Good with the Contract Lawyer Coordinator

One major piece of advice is to try to get in good with the person who staffs all the projects at a given law firm. They are the gatekeeper to a steady work flow, which in my world equals rent. On this contract lawyer assignment, it was apparent that our staffing coordinator had her favorites, because they had been getting staffed at this very same law firm for over 3 years in some instances.  So make every effort to become one of her favorites. What do I mean by this? Well, the number 1 rule is do not be the person that emails her constantly with questions. If you think a colleague can answer it, I urge you to go that route. Many of these contract lawyers have been there for years and can pretty much take charge in her absence. Also, let her see you go the extra mile. Whenever someone needs to make copies, whenever someone needs to pick up a package, whenever someone needs to let a colleague out of the parking garage, be that person. It may sound a bit silly, if you do these relatively minor things (needless to say, you must do a good job with the document review project itself) , you should fully expect your name to be called by that firm when they staff their next project.

Network With the Other Contract Lawyers

One other piece of advice in these contract lawyer projects is to network, aka, make friends. Time goes by very, very slowly on these projects and one major way to make this experience palatable is to engage with the other contract attorneys. Also, there is a good chance you will see these people again if you plan on doing more contract work.  On my project, there were around 15 attorneys, yet I was the only first timer. So make a concerted effort to be extra friendly.

The veteran contract lawyers often share useful advice based on their previous experience. If you are new to the process, like I was, you may not really have any idea of how the legal staffing world works. Thankfully, the guy sitting next to me broke it all down for me, gave me a list of all of the major staffing places in LA and gave me their contact info. Further, if this is your first diligence assignment, then your resume will need a bit of tweaking afterwords to shine a light on your new experience. Ask these other contractors to sent their resume as samples, they will probably offer it up unsolicited.

Other Alternative Career Paths for Part Time Attorneys

One of the most surprising things for me was that I wasn’t the exception in terms of career paths. I was at a table with quite a few other attorneys who had outside interests that rivaled mine in terms of how different they were from law work. One guy was building a sports agent practice and travelling the country scouting up and company mixed martial arts fighters and even signed one of them during the course of our month together. Another guy had his own startup business where he sold products ranging from neutraceuticals to massage chairs.  Another was a music agent, who also made his money representing people in DUI cases. (Hopefullly, none of us will ever need his services.) There were a small percentage of extremely entrepreneurial 1st and 2nd years who made the best of a tough economy who hung up their own shingle and started their own niche practice.

Put in your best effort on these document review projects, get to know the staffing coordinator and your fellow contract law attorneys and you are more than likely to wind up with a steady flow of future projects. The next one might be for the firm you did the contract assignment work for, or a different assignment from the legal staffing firm that hire you or even possibly some work outsourced to you by one of the fellow contract lawyers who have their own practices. The bottom line is you should never find yourself unemployed because of the “economy” when their are plenty of contract law jobs out there.

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  • I love your optimistic and pragmatic approach to practicing law. Gone are the days when there is only one avenue to a successful law practice. Although I have made great efforts to distinguish between the path of “contract lawyer” and “freelance lawyer” (one being an employee of an agency, while the other is self-employed), it seems you are taking advantage of both avenues and customizing your own career path. I look forward to seeing where you creative career path takes you!