Summary: Learn why Adam Holm became a contract attorney, and what a typical day is like for him.
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.
- Why did you decide to work as a contract attorney?
As I was finishing law school I decided to get my LL.M in tax law. However, I was tired of living off of a student's income and started looking for a job. Fortunately, I found a temp agency looking for contract attorneys to staff a project for a local law firm. The pay was surprisingly good and hours were so flexible that I could easily plan my work schedule around my class schedule. It was an easy decision for me and I finished my LL.M in two years. Unfortunately, soon after I finished school, the job market collapsed and the recession made it very difficult to find work outside my contract position. Still, the work was steady and the pay remained good in a down economy and I ended up working as a contract attorney for years and considered myself lucky.
- What is the best part of working as a contract attorney?
There are several benefits to working as a contract attorney such as very flexible schedules, low stress, and a 40 hour work-week. For me, this makes it very easy to have the time and mental energy to focus on additional education, multiple hobbies and a rich social and family life.
- What is the worst part of working as a contract attorney?
For every benefit of working as a contract attorney there is sacrifice. A flexible schedule is a result of being paid hourly which means if you're not at work, you're not getting paid. Contract positions rarely offer much, if anything, in the way of paid time off. The low stress environment that allows you to "leave work at work" can often be exceptionally dull and your time on a particular project will end before the controversy is seen through. That lack of control over (or even knowledge of) the final outcome is something that some contract attorneys find frustrating.
- What advice would you give to others looking to become a contract attorney?
This depends on why a person is considering that decision and where they are in their career. For a 3L just looking for a job when they finish school, becoming a contract attorney can be a very good choice. Many contract attorney positions only require a JD and fill the gap between graduation and bar acceptance quite well, especially since it is flexible enough to allow you to work and study for the Bar Exam. However, if you have specific goals for your legal career beyond a steady paycheck, be sure to view your time as a contract attorney as a sort of stop-gap between school and your career, as there is little to no real advancement opportunity in such jobs.
It is a different story for those looking to become a contract attorney later in their career. Many of my friends at work have been in the twilight of their legal careers or have decided they no longer wanted the long hours and stress that can come with a legal career. These are almost invariably the happiest people on most contract attorney projects. They know what they gave up and why, and have so much less stress and extra time to spend with their families that the drawbacks to working as a contract attorney are more than worth it.
- What is a typical day like for you as a contract attorney?
Well, depending on how late I stayed up reading, spending quiet time at home with my wife, or socializing the night before, I come in to work between 7 am and 9 am. I sit at my computer and begin to review documents.
The type of documents depends on the current project. Sometimes the work is interesting and requires significant concentration and somewhat frequent meetings to discuss issues that arose. Sometimes the work is repetitive to the point of absurdity, but in that case I just pop on my headphones and listen to my favorite music, podcasts and even audiobooks and find a way to feel edified despite what amounts to 8 hours of reviewing the same document over and over again. In any case, I leave after working about 9 hours Monday to Thursdays and I start my weekend as soon as I hit 40 hours on Friday, usually between noon and 1pm.
- How does your experience as a contract attorney compare with your peers who chose other sorts of jobs?
As I emphasized above, there are always trade-offs in choosing contract attorney work with other sorts of jobs in the legal field. I have friends that are everything from partners at large law firms to local prosecutors and public defenders. There are times when I feel some existential angst or even jealousy when I hear about their exciting cases or recent promotions, but when I listen to a friend upset or frustrated about losing a case, or receive an email from another still at work at 10 pm on a Saturday while I'm at home quietly reading one of many favorite books, that angst and jealousy can fade quickly. Choosing to become a contract attorney is like all choices; there are trade-offs, compromises, and sacrifices. The most important thing is to know what you're getting yourself into regardless of your career choice. Try to enjoy what you do for a living, but barring that, try to do what you enjoy as much as possible while making a living.
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