Many people writing for this site and reading this site have their own solo practice. Others, like me, don’t have the time to start their own law firm, but still want the flexibility of a solo practice, so we do the next best thing: freelance for a solo practitioner. Being an independent contractor is pretty much a win-win for everyone. You get to pick up some extra work and the solo practitioner gets to lighten their workload while paying you a fraction of what they charge the client (similar to what law-firms with partners and associates).
How to find a freelance gig
The easiest way to find freelance work for a solo practitioner is to ask around. Ask friends, family, fellow lawyers. Ask people on your document review project. Use social networking sites like Linked In and Facebook. The key word is network! Once you find yourself a freelance gig, consider the following issues that you may face:
The Solo Practitioner May Assume You Know Everything
I do freelance work for someone who has his own firm specializing in sports and entertainment law. He is very well respected and has been practicing for over 30 year so for him, most of this work is by rote. However, veterans like this often forget that you do not possess the same wealth of experience and may have questions about an assignment, lots of questions. Unfortunately, there isn’t a huge database of documents to look to, so the solo practitioner may be the only guide that you have.
The process of picking up freelance work from a solo practitioner can sometimes be a bit informal. Showing up at their office or home, get a summary (often brief) of the assignment and then get the necessary document they would like drafted or revised. You may sometimes be instructed to email the client to introduce yourself. After that, contact with the solo practitioner may be minimal until the work is completed. It can sometimes be frustrating, but considering the pay and the flexibility, it is an ideal situation for many of us.
One piece of advice if you are in a similar situation is: ask as many questions as possible when you are first getting the assignment. This pretty much goes for partner/associate interaction at big firms too, but at least there are usually mid-level or senior associates that you can ask questions to if you are too intimidated to call the partner. If you don’t ask your questions in the first meeting, immediately after you delve into the document, start typing up a list of questions and then try to call/email as soon as you are done. Every minute that ticks away make it’s more difficult sometimes to go back and get the help you need. Your boss is probably busy, so be efficient with getting what you need from them to do the job.
Make the client comfortable with you
As is often the case, you are now the point man for that client and the client expects you to know everything the solo practitioner knows. They don’t care what year you are or how much experience you have. At the rates they are paying, they expect expert level answers. The best thing to do is be completely familiar with the terms of the contract and try to touch base with solo practitioner immediately before calling the client, as sort of a refresher in case you forget anything. When you call the client, you should also make sure to ask them as many possible questions upfront so as not to have to go back and harass them with many follow up calls emails. You can and should state at the end of the call that you may have some follow up questions and ask whether they would prefer email or phone. You want it to be as seamless as possible for the client, so they feel comfortable with you in the future and so the solo practitioner feels confident in leaving you alone.
Often, you may not get an exact time frame to complete your assignment. You may hear something like “there’s no hurry” or “if you can get this done in a couple of weeks, that would be great.” Even if this is true, you should still assume they want it done sooner. When working freelance as an independent contractor, there is a natural tendency not to rush to get things done, but a good rule of thumb should be always to treat the assignment more urgently than it is. The solo practitioner will be impressed with your efficiently and probably reward you with more work. I personally freelance for a solo practitioner only around 10 hours a week right now, but I always try to put that 10 hours at the beginning of the week. Remember, if you’re being hired as a independent contractor, its because the solo practitioner doesn’t want to share fees with another attorney/have to pay a full time associate or he just may not have the workload for it. However, he’s using you as a freelancer because he wants someone he can count on to work fairly independently and complete the tasks given to him in a timely manner. Happy St. Patty’s Day.