Saturday, June 26, 2010

ABA article states "Growing Enthusiasm" for Contract Lawyers

A recent ABA article titled "Law Firms Express Growing Enthusiams for Contract Lawyers" states that the use of contract attorneys is increasing:

This year, 10 percent of the firms plan to cut associates, 38 percent plan to reduce or discontinue hiring first-year associates, and 54 percent plan to shrink their summer programs.

At the same time, law firms are instead expressing a “growing enthusiasm” for a staffing alternative—contract lawyers, according to an Altman Weil press release. Last year, 39 percent of the law firms used contract lawyers. This year, 53 percent will or might do so, while 52 percent expect that contract lawyers will become a permanent part of their staffing plans.

This is good news for Montage Legal Group!

Freelance Attorney v. Contract Attorney

You might wonder why Montage Legal Group has started to use the term “freelance attorney” instead of “contract attorney.”  The answer is that we are following the trend towards distinguishing ourselves from inexperienced document review "contract attorneys," and identifying ourselves with highly skilled, experienced entrepreneur attorneys who have made the decision to achieve a work-life balance by becoming "freelance attorneys."

The term “contract attorney” unfortunately is associated with attorneys who have not been able to get hired at law firms, so are instead forced to work with staffing agencies on large document review projects for low rates. The popular blog Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition is famous for describing the horrible sweatshop conditions, where temp lawyers perform document review in crowded basements with inadequate sanitary facilities. Even the Wikipedia page for Contract Attorneys cites criticisms of contract lawyers, stating that “the legal profession, which is topped by law firm partners billing hundreds of dollars an hour, now has a new proletariat of temp lawyers working for $19-25 an hour in sweatshop conditions."

The term “freelance attorney,” however, is now being used for a new breed of independent contract attorneys who have made the choice to leave law firms and work on a project basis for other law firms. The National Association of Freelance Legal Professionals does a great job of explaining the distinction.

Contract attorneys are treated as second-class citizens both in terms of law firm atmosphere, mentoring opportunities, and the perception of their resume for future jobs. The perception is that these attorneys were unable to get their first job option (assumed to be an associate position at a prestigious large law firm) and that working contract was their second choice. It is a perception of inadequacy and failure right out of the starting gate, hardly a selling point for ones competency as a legal professional. ….

The key difference between contract attorney (or paralegal, etc.) and a freelancer by definition is the identity of employer. A staffing agency simply does not have the incentive to provide a contract legal professional with any benefit other than sufficient pay to get them to come to work every day that they want them to come to work. A freelancer does not wait for a phone call and then jumps when asked to work here or there on some boring project or another that will simply pay the bills. Freelancers are employed by the only people that has the freelancer’s best interests at heart – themselves.

A response by well-know freelance attorney Lisa Solomon to the ABA Call for Comments Regarding Legal Process Outsourcing also provides a section regarding the definition of the terms “contract attorney” and “freelance attorney."  It describes freelance attorneys as “entrepreneurs” who have “a great deal of control over their careers.” It states that in contrast to "contract attorneys," "freelance attorneys" report a very high level of satisfaction with their careers.

Montage Legal Group attorneys are certainly “freelance” attorneys by those definitions.  We graduated at the top of our law school classes and worked at large firms like Latham and Watkins and Snell & Wilmer. We all made the choice to gain control of our lives by leaving law firms and becoming independent contract attorneys, and we all certainly have a very high level of satisfaction with our legal careers. 

You may still see us using the two terms interchangably in our blog, but we wanted to let our readers know why we made the sudden change on our facebook page and website.  We hope that clears it up!

Our Montage Legal Group Blog is Finally Here!

Montage Legal Group has started a blog to provide details on the Southern California contract attorney/freelance attorney market, and to help other attorneys keep their life in balance. Check back here for more posts! See our website at http://www.montagelegal.com/.
  
Owners/Founders - Laurie Rowen and Erin Giglia