In this post, I will consider the pros and cons of using freelance legal services, from the perspective of the hiring lawyer.
A freelance lawyer can serve the needs of the hiring lawyer and their client in many ways. The American Bar Association recognizes that “the outsourcing trend is a salutary one for our globalized economy.” American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, Formal Opinion 08-451, Lawyer’s Obligations When Outsourcing Legal and Nonlegal Support Services, August 5, 2008.
A freelance lawyer may provide cost-effective representation to a client of limited means who might not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer. When a hiring lawyer bills their client for freelance legal services as an expense rather than a legal fee, they must pass it on without any markup or surcharge. Because freelance lawyers usually charge a much lower hourly rate than lawyers associated with a firm and directly representing clients, the client benefits from this arrangement.
Conversely, the hiring lawyer can markup the freelance lawyer’s time or impose a surcharge. This becomes a source of profit for the hiring lawyer. There are ethical constraints on the imposition of a surcharge for a freelance lawyer’s work, which I will discuss in another post. But, subject to ethical obligations, profiting from a freelance lawyer’s work allows the hiring lawyer to bill more hours and generate a higher profit.
Improved workload management is an important benefit of using freelance legal services. Colorado Rule Of Professional Conduct 1.3 states that “a lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Failure to exercise the required diligence can have serious negative consequences for both the lawyer and the client. Engaging a freelance lawyer allows the hiring lawyer to outsource overflow work to another lawyer and maintain diligence and promptness.
Although freelance lawyers can work with any size law firm, solo practitioners and small firms can really benefit from the increased capacity and flexibility that a freelance lawyer offers. One of the major problems facing solos and small firms is that they do not have the option to spread the workload over more lawyers during busy times. Freelance lawyers give solos and small firms the option to increase their capacity without the long-term commitment and expense of adding an associate or partner.
Finally, freelance lawyers may offer very specialized legal services. The hiring lawyer can take advantage of the freelance lawyer’s expertise and experience for a discrete matter.
Although freelance legal services may be a boon for both the hiring lawyer and their client, there are some potential drawbacks.
First, the hiring lawyer may have a duty to supervise the freelance lawyer. I'll discuss the hiring lawyer's supervisory obligations in detail in a later post.
Second, the hiring lawyer may have a duty to disclose the use of a freelance lawyer to their client, and using a freelance lawyer might not fit with client expectations. I'll discuss the duty of disclosure and informed consent in another post. If a client expects that their lawyer will be the only person handling their case, they may object to the use of a freelance lawyer. A key feature of a successful freelance law relationship is that the hiring lawyer accurately measures and manages client expectations.
In the next post, I will discuss the attorney-client relationship.
Of course, rules and ethical obligations may vary by jurisdiction, and this post does not constitute legal advice.