Non-Traditional Job Settings: The Temporary or Telecommuting Lawyer-The Best of Both Worlds or a Big Mistake?

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<<Temporary Attorney Positions

The PROS of taking on a temporary attorney position are many:
  1. You keep your skills sharp.
  2. You expose yourself to networking opportunities. Some firms will consider their temporary attorneys for permanent positions later on down the road; hence, it may be a good way to "break into" a tough firm.
  3. You maintain a gap-free resume between permanent jobs, relocations, etc.
  4. You maintain the flexibility of having a schedule that will likely allow you to leave at a decent hour, take vacations when planned or breaks as needed, and, essentially, serve as a freelance attorney—with all of the perks and none of the strings attached.
The CONS of taking on a temporary attorney position are also numerous:
  1. If you are practicing in a large city or competitive legal market, you may find that when you go to look for a permanent position, the temp work on your resume hinders rather than helps you. In competitive legal markets such as New York City, for instance, many Big Law firms use temp work as a screening tool. The rationale is that "if a candidate would take a temporary position, for any reason, then he or she certainly is not someone who would work well at a Big Law firm." (Note: We all know this is not true; however, it is an important fact to note when determining whether to engage in temp work.) Hence, in some geographic regions, temp work can be a smudge as opposed to a star on one's resume.
  2. In contrast to the second point under the "pro" section above, some firms have policies against hiring as permanent employees all lawyers who have practiced as temp attorneys at their firms. Thus, you will want to make certain you are clear about a firm's policy before you sign up for a temp position.
  3. Not all temporary attorney positions offer lifestyle freedoms (such as better hours) or creative work. A large number of temp attorneys are hired every year, for example, to do document review. Document review is an important skill to learn if you are an attorney, especially if you are a litigator. However, when you are undertaking document review for nine months or longer as a temp attorney, you are likely hindering your skills instead of sharpening them.
Considering the above, when is temp work a good idea, and when is it a bad idea? Only you can make that decision. Weighing the pros and cons, how do you see your career progressing in one year? Three years? Five years? Is your goal to work in a big firm in a big city, or are you happy with a smaller firm in a less competitive geographic market that will "think outside the box" a bit when it comes to hiring?



What is your lifestyle like? Do you want to be home at 6:00 p.m. to make dinner for your family? Is it enough to earn a good paycheck (staff attorneys at the top firms in New York start around $90,000) and come home at the end of the day, or do you need more? These are all questions only you can ask yourself when considering the pros and cons.
Personally, I have seen both sides of the coin. A good friend of mine from Big Law days took on a temp position following the birth of her second child and her decision not to return to Big Law practice. For her, the arrangement worked successfully. While she sometimes bemoaned the fact that she was not called upon to handle high-profile projects in this role, she was able to leave the office at 5:30 p.m. every day. She made a solid paycheck, and both she and her husband were grateful for the family time they were able to build into their lives.

In contrast, another friend took on a temp position in New York City following his relocation from the West Coast. Not wanting to rush into a new position, yet still wishing to keep his skills sharp, this friend accepted a six-month temp position while he "got used to the city." Unfortunately, when he finally did put himself back into the New York City job market by seeking permanent associate employment, he experienced some resistance on account of his temp work. Eventually, he found permanent employment, of course, but it was an uphill battle.1

Thus, when determining whether temp work is right for you, the two biggest questions you can ask are:
  1. How do I see my future?
  2. What market am I practicing in, and how does the marketplace view and/or value temp attorneys?
Know your priorities first, know your market second, know the pros and cons, and make an informed decision.

The Telecommuting Attorney

Two more questions frequently posed to me by candidates are "Do law firms ever consider telecommuting arrangements?" and "Would this hurt my career?" Both questions are very often asked by working parents, candidates who are interested in firms that sit in regions outside of a comfortable commute, and candidates in niche practice areas.

Generally speaking, most firms will not allow telecommuting for new hires. In contrast, such an arrangement may be acceptable for a long-term employee. (Telecommuting practices are very much akin to part-time or flex-time arrangements, which firms traditionally save for seasoned employees who have proven themselves.) As for whether such an arrangement would hurt one's career, I am afraid that can only be answered on a case-by-case basis.
Regardless of firms' desires to have their associates in the office during work hours (9:00 to 5:00), the core inquiry is actually client-based—namely, "Will you be able to satisfactorily serve your clients' needs if you telecommute?" Sometimes, the answer to that question is "no"; other times, it is "yes."

When a firm allows for telecommuting, it is a brilliant way to shape your practice into a career that works for you. In fact, firms have found that permitting telecommuting reduces turnover because it keeps existing associates happy and content, allowing their practices to change as their lives change.

Conclusions

Determining whether a temporary or telecommuting position is right for you is a very personal decision. Knowing the pros and cons is vital. This decision cannot be made in a vacuum. You must ascertain what you want for your life and your career and see if these career alternatives fall in line—based upon the market in which you practice, general business practices of firms in the region, and a ready acknowledgment of the risks.
 
1Many candidates ask me whether they have to put temp work down on their resumes. In other words, why can't they undertake temp positions and simply not reference them on their resumes? I explain to them that omitting any type of temporary or other employment from the professional-history section of one's resume would be considered a material misrepresentation.

Please see the following articles for more information about nontraditional law jobs and alternative ways to use your law degree:
 



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