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Time For a Contract Attorney?

John Lassiter

By John Lassiter

Though a lot of law firms and corporate legal departments have used contract attorneys over the past few years, too many lawyers are unclear about how to use this valuable resource to strengthen their practice and leverage their resources. Taking advantage of this powerful tool can bring a boost to your bottom line or extend an already tight budget. This article will help answer your remaining questions.

The Practice of Law has Changed

All of us have seen dramatic changes in how we practice but there are several factors have significantly impacted the profession. First, clients have an increased rate sensitivity putting pressure on the efficiency of lawyers and their team. This pressure is compounded by competition in all practice areas. Contract attorneys give you an option to bill rates of associates. This is a way to stretch your outside legal spend if you are in house. Second, law firms and legal departments work with tighter headcount and budget expectations limiting the addition of permanent attorneys or support staff. Finally, with increased specialization, your team is not as flexible to respond to new matters or scale to meet high demand. By adding contract attorneys, you can free up the capacity of your specialized services and improve client service and profitability.

What Can a Contract Attorney Do for You?

Many folks think contract attorneys just focus on e-discovery and litigation related review and this area remains the largest demand for this flexible staffing model, but the utility has expanded dramatically over the years. Transactional uses include due diligence for mergers and acquisitions, review and negotiation of contracts and vendor agreements, abstraction of real estate leases and a wide variety of finance related services for both lenders, borrowers and loan servicers. In all these matters you can segment the workload by taking repeatable tasks away from your already stretched team and letting them focus on matters and questions that best utilize their training and experience. Increased attention from regulators has filtered into a wide variety of organizations. These inquiries, document requests and process questions can be managed with trained contract attorneys reviewing documents for privilege and confidentiality.

How Do I Manage Contract Attorneys?

The process is straightforward. Contract attorneys are a temporary resource that you usually find through a legal staffing company that will confirm that each attorney has the needed experience and skills to supplement your practice. They will employ the contractor as a W-2 employee and bill you an hourly rate for services. You can stop and start the services as needed and in some cases convert the contractor to your payroll if you find the right person and the budget to add them to your team. Some needs fit in traditional work weeks but increasingly our clients use contract talent that can work on an intermittent schedule, work from remote locations through safe encrypted systems and travel to client locations to conduct the needed work. Make sure the staffing agency has a proven history of delivering high quality and dependable contract attorneys. Insist that they can provide a timely background check process including quality references, bar confirmation, and criminal history and that they will stand behind their people and work product.

Final Advice

Depending on the matters that your contract attorney will address, pay close attention to confidentiality and disclosure issues that can be addressed at the time the engagement begins. Look for a simple timekeeping system that allows you to confirm hours worked and invoicing that can be dovetailed into your billing system and vendor management process. We have helped hundreds of law firms and legal departments explore the best way to add the needed skills at a managed expense and have developed a wide variety of creative solutions for our clients.


John Lassiter is president and founder of Carolina Legal Staffing, the market leading legal placement and staffing firm, with offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Practiced with the Attorney General’s Office in Raleigh as well as SVP and counsel at Belk Stores. He holds both his undergraduate and law degrees from Wake Forest University. John served as president of the Mecklenburg County Bar and the Children’s Law Center and on the boards of several influential organizations. In 2014, the NCBA awarded him their Citizen Lawyer Award. For information, contact (919) 645-5757. Jlassiter@carolinalegal.com. 4208 Six Forks Rd. Suite 1000, Raleigh NC 27609. www.carolinalegal.com