Book Review: The Freelance Lawyering Manual
I read Kimberly Alderman’s The Freelance Lawyering Manual: What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About the New Temporary Attorney Market several months ago and recently picked it back up. This book is filled with practical suggestions, real world examples, and valuable insights for lawyers considering starting a freelance law practice and for lawyers who might hire or work with freelance lawyers.
After a few years as a stay-at-home mom, I was ready to have a professional presence in my life again. I searched high and low for law jobs that met a few criteria: i) a part-time or flexible schedule to allow me to stay at home with my girls a few days a week, ii) something I could do from my tiny town in the middle of nowhere Colorado, and iii) something that was substantively interesting to me. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find a multitude of jobs that ticked all of those boxes!
I began to reflect on what I really liked to do. For a while, I did a limited amount of contract work for my former employer. I drafted memos and pleadings and did legal research. I loved it. It was a serious lightbulb moment when I realized I could build an entire practice based on this type of contract work! I started to research a freelance legal services business model and I came across The Freelance Lawyering Manual. This book was exactly what I needed to take the plunge and start my own solo freelance practice.
The book is organized into three sections: Part I, What Freelance Lawyers Need to Know; Part II, What Hiring Attorneys Need to Know; and Part III, Issues of Joint Concern: Ethical Requirements.
Part 1: Information for Freelance Lawyers
In Chapter 1, Ms. Alderman discusses the freelance legal market. This chapter contrasts the hit the legal industry took with the 2008 recession with the growth of the freelance economy. This book is from 2011, so some of the discussion is a little dated. The gig economy, however, has continued to expand and has made serious inroads in the legal profession. I think that there is a tremendous untapped market in the legal profession for freelance legal services.
In Chapter 2, Ms. Alderman helps lawyers decide whether freelancing lawyer will be a good fit. I found this section very beneficial as I was considering this career path. I felt that I could make an informed decision and have my eyes open to both the challenges and opportunities of freelancing. Ms. Alderman offers some “plain truths” about freelancing law practice that, in my experience, hold up. Here are the freelancing lawyering plain truths:
· #1 “Successful freelance law practices aren’t built overnight”
· #2 “It may take years of building a freelance law practice to achieve regular, consistent income”
· #3 “Young freelance law practices are typically general in nature”
· #4 “No one is going to babysit you into doing your job”
· #5 “You are not going to have the support staff that you would with a traditional lawyer job”
· #6 “Marketing a freelance law practice is no easier than marketing a traditional firm—if anything, it is harder”
· #7 “Freelance law practices are a new phenomena, so potential clients will have to be convinced that using a freelance lawyer can be both ethical and profitable”
· # 8 “If you wish to obtain traditional employment with a law firm in the future, they may consider your time freelancing as a ‘black mark’”
Chapter 3 is called “Getting Started” and covers some of the basic investments you should make in a freelance law practice, such as phone, email, legal research platforms, entity formation, licensing, etc. This chapter really offers practical advice for a lawyer considering what it takes to effectively work in this type of practice. From a technological perspective, there are more options and more ways to leverage technology than were readily available in 2011, so the reader should take some of the suggestions with a grain of salt. Even with this in mind, freelance legal practices must effectively use technology to meet and connect with attorney clients.
Chapter 4 covers the financial aspect of a freelance law practice. As with the previous chapter, this is chock full of practical advice. Freelance lawyers have a wide variety of motivations for seeking this practice and have a really wide range of income requirements. This chapter helps potential freelance lawyers evaluate their overhead, profit margins, and billing rates, and make a decision as to whether this business model will really support their financial goals.
Chapter 5 discusses marketing a freelance law practice. As I have found to be true from my own experiences, Ms. Alderman suggests that the single most effective marketing tool is in-person networking. She provides some great examples of networking opportunities, some of which I have taken advantage of to good effect. This chapter also covers advertising, social media, and other aspects of marketing.
This chapter is a little weak on using social media to connect with other lawyers. Since this book was published in 2011, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have exploded in growth and lawyers and law firms are consistently using those platforms to advertise and communicate about their traditional law practices. If your clients are other lawyers, you need to be where they are—both in person and online. I have joined many Facebook groups focused on lawyers—groups on motherhood and the law, groups on women-owned firms, groups on lawyers of a particular political or religious bent. I don’t use these contacts to “sell myself,” but they are a great source of referrals and a way to connect with other lawyers.
Chapter 7 discusses the actual practice of freelance law. It covers client communication, file maintenance, and some of the administrative aspects of a law practice. If you have a strong background as a solo or small firm practitioner, you probably already have a good grasp on these issues. If you’re considering coming into freelance law from a different practice setting, this is really helpful information. This chapter is supplemented by material in the appendix such as engagement letters and sample contracts.
Part II: Information for Hiring Lawyers
Part II shifts gears from advising freelance lawyers to advising hiring lawyers—that is, those lawyers who are interested in using freelance legal services to support their practices. I am so glad that Ms. Alderman included this perspective in her book. She notes that it is a ‘plain truth’ that lawyers need to be educated about the opportunities, limitations, and ethical considerations of this business model, and I have found that to be true. I spend a good deal of time and effort in providing that education to potential clients through blog posts, articles, and presentations.
Chapter 8 focuses on the risks and rewards of using a freelance lawyer. In my experience, time management is the biggest reason that hiring lawyers consider using a freelance lawyer. This chapter covers the issues of practice management as well as revenue and specialization.
Chapter 9 walks a potential hiring lawyer how to find, evaluate, and hire a freelance lawyer. It discusses screening and supervising lawyers, pay rates, and managing the hiring lawyer-freelance lawyer relationship. Freelance legal services are an underused option for solos and small firms, and my experience is that once a lawyer establishes a relationship with a freelance lawyer they trust, they’ll keep using this service. But they have to connect with the freelance lawyer in the first place!
Chapter 10 covers client relations between the hiring lawyer and their client. This chapter explores disclosure to the client and the financial arrangement between the hiring lawyer and their client for freelance legal services.
Part III: Ethical Considerations
Part III explores the ethical issues surrounding freelance legal services. Hiring lawyers need to be educated about freelance legal services as a business model and practice setting, but they also need to be educated about the ethical issues that they need to keep in mind. A savvy freelance lawyer will research and understand their jurisdiction’s rules or ethics opinions as they relate to various aspects of freelance legal services. I have prepared a CLE presentation, bar association articles, and an ‘orientation letter’ for potential lawyer clients, all focused on the ethics of freelance lawyering. This section offers good, if general, advice and identifies some of the ethical concerns that both the hiring lawyer and freelance lawyer should anticipate.
Chapter 11 deals with supervising the freelance lawyer. It offers suggestions on how to select competent lawyers, provide feedback and set parameters for legal work.
Chapters 12-15 cover the ethics issues most central to freelance legal services: confidentiality, malpractice concerns, screening for clients and preventing imputed conflicts, and billing for freelance work. Again, lawyers should consult their state’s ethics rules, disciplinary rulings, and ethics opinions for current ethics obligations. These chapters help lawyers identify potential issues and explains how the American Bar Association Ethics Opinions have treated various issues.
This book was a revelation for me. It was a serious lightbulb moment when I realized lawyers were practicing law using this freelance model. This book was a wonderful resource and gave me the tools and confidence I needed to make the plunge and set myself up for a growing freelance law practice. I highly recommend it to lawyers thinking about either providing or using freelance legal services.