Working as a contract attorney has both pros and cons, just like any other attorney. Some of the pros include having a variety of work and having compensation that is tied to their hours. Some of the cons include a lower average salary compared to regular attorneys and less prestige than regular attorneys have.
Contract attorneys enjoy various benefits that regular attorneys may lack, such having a variety of work and having compensation that is tied to the number of hours they work. That being said, there are some downsides to becoming a solo practitioner, including a lower average salary and less prestige compared to regular full-time attorneys. All in all, you should weigh your options and consider becoming a contract attorney if it is the right fit for you.
1. Why did you decide to work as a contract attorney?
I couldn't find anything else. The market was dead. I'd worked on a political campaign, but after that ended I was at a loss, and a friend passed my name along to someone who needed warm bodies for document review. Back then, it was considered shameful work -- now things are done differently, the doc review is all online, and I'm considered one of the best. I've worked for my current boss for over ten years, on a contract basis.
2. What is the best part of working as a contract attorney?
Contract work is the consolation prize of the legal profession. The good parts are the obvious ones -- you have more of a say in your work schedule and quality of life, etc. One of the advantages I noticed right away: in a traditional law firm setting, working long hours is to the benefit of the employer, to the detriment of the client (sometimes), and a wash for the associate, since the associate gets paid the same amount no matter how long the day is. It creates an atmosphere that pits all three of us against one another, to some extent. When I'm on contract and paid by the hour, my compensation is tied directly to my hours -- I don't end up feeling "used" by my boss, and we don't have this issue between us about whether I've billed enough hours for the month. I get an assignment, I first look it over and tell my boss "I think I can do this in 10 hours, but if I see it's going to take more, I'll call and clear it with you first." So, the client doesn't get any unpleasant surprises.
3. What is the worst part of working as a contract attorney?
It's low prestige work, and it comes in fits and starts. There can be long periods with no work at all. There are no benefits, and if you're working from home you can get pretty isolated from humanity.
4. What advice would you give to others looking to become a contract attorney?
Nobody is looking to become a contract attorney
. People are doing it because they have to do it. My advice would be to use each assignment to learn something, anything. Whatever you pick up by way of familiarity with any industry is something that might come in handy down the road.
5. What is a typical day like for you as a contract attorney?
I do online document review, so I am usually supervised by lead counsel in some distant city. I'm almost always part of a team. One of the first things I figured out was: the person supervising me frequently has far less experience with document review than I have, and it can be a good idea to hold their hand a little, build their confidence, and get them comfortable with problem-solving. I rarely ever e-mail my supervisor about a problem without also including a proposed fix. When I get the sense that the person who's directing me isn't really sure what they want me to do, I'll e-mail them and say "I'll approach this however you like, but I was thinking, I could just start out by looking for blah blah blah". I usually hear back "Great idea!" which is code for "Do what you normally do, because I've never done this before."
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