Ten Things to Know About Freelance Law: #1 Basics of Freelance Law

In this post, I will cover the basics of freelance law: the lawyers involved and the arrangements that they may choose to make for the provision of legal services.

Freelance law is essentially when a non-employee lawyer is retained by a lawyer or law firm to provide legal services on behalf of their clients.  The American Bar Association states that “the term contract lawyer…mean[s] any lawyer or law firm who is not employed permanently for general assignment by the lawyer or law firm engaged by the client.”  American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Formal Opinion 00-420, Surcharge to Client for Use of a Contract Lawyer, November 29, 2000.  According to the Colorado Bar Association, “a temporary lawyer represents the clients of the employing lawyer or law firm.”  Colorado Bar Association, Formal Opinion 105, Opinion on Temporary Lawyers, May 22, 1999.

The non-employee lawyer may be called a temporary lawyer, contract lawyer, or freelance lawyer.  Although these terms all mean the same thing and the ethics opinions use them interchangeably, they may carry slightly different connotations.  Contract lawyer seems to be a more dated term and may imply that the lawyer is working through a placement agency or other third party.  Freelance lawyer is a more updated term and may imply that the lawyer does not work through an intermediary. 

Lawyers choose to do freelance legal work for many reasons.  For some, childcare or home-life balance considerations are paramount and freelance work provides flexibility.  Other lawyers simply do not want to be tied to a traditional brick-and-mortar practice because they want to travel or be able to work from anywhere.  Some lawyers freelance for a limited time while in between more traditional jobs or freelance as a way to supplement their primary income source.  For others, freelance work is their main income source or how they plan on practicing long-term.

The freelance lawyer is only half of the freelance law equation.  The other half is the lawyer or law firm that hires the freelance lawyer.  This lawyer may be called a retaining lawyer, engaging lawyer, employing lawyer, hiring lawyer, or outsourcing lawyer.  Again, these terms all mean the same thing and the ethics opinions use the terms interchangeably.

A freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer can choose to work together in a wide variety of ways.  The hiring lawyer could use a legal services placement agency to retain a freelance lawyer, such as when a firm outsources a document review project.  Or, the hiring lawyer could directly engage the freelance lawyer as an independent contractor.  The freelance lawyer could work onsite, using the hiring lawyer’s office space and equipment.  Conversely, the freelance lawyer could work completely remotely and never share a physical space with the hiring lawyer.

The freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer could have a close and ongoing relationship and work together on many client matters.  (I will discuss when a freelance lawyer is deemed “associated with a firm” for conflicts purposes in another post).  Or, the freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer could have an attenuated or one-time relationship, with the freelance lawyer providing legal services for only one client or one matter.

The freelance lawyer might work exclusively for the hiring lawyer during their relationship.  This is often the case when the freelance lawyer works full-time on a discovery or document review project for a few weeks or months.  Or, the freelance lawyer may work for many hiring lawyers simultaneously.

The freelance lawyer and hiring lawyer have many options to craft their relationship to best serve their needs and the client’s needs.

Next week, I will consider the pros and cons of freelance legal services.


Of course, rules and ethical obligations may vary by jurisdiction, and this post does not constitute legal advice.