What Are the Types of Contract Attorneys?

by Jana
Sep 21, 2021

Law firms are always looking for ways to save money without sacrificing the quality of client service Pandamic Enviroinment. One way to do this is to use contract lawyers. However, in this context, contract lawyers do not specialize in contract law. Instead, they perform legal services on a contract or freelance basis.   

According to a recent EconoTimes report, freelance lawyers are a growing trend in the legal services market, gaining popularity throughout the United States. The perks of being a contract attorney—flexible hours and the ability to pick and choose assignments — lead even seasoned attorneys to choose this route. This growing trend is also a boon for law firms that need to scale or outsource work for appearance counsel or other contract attorney services.  

Those who practice at small- to mid-sized firms can find it challenging to survive the ebbs and flows of a law practice during busy times or when an emergency court hearing pops up. Hiring freelance attorneys to perform various duties without needing to hire a full-time employee can help managers effectively meet the challenges of running a law practice today.  

Generally, contract attorneys fill a variety of roles:  

  • Serving as appearance counsel for court hearings  
  • Working on temporary legal projects, sometimes on a continuing basis  
  • Specializing in many legal areas, from debt collection to bankruptcy to family law  
  • Performing a variety of tasks such as legal research; drafting pleadings, motions, and contracts; responding to discovery requests; preparing for trial; and conducting depositions  

While all these contract attorney services can bring significant value to a firm, hiring a freelance attorney to handle routine court appearances is the most efficient way for busy law practices to create more bandwidth for their current staff.

Let’s examine the different types of contract attorneys and the duties they perform while functioning as appearance counsel.

Freelance Lawyers

Many new attorneys begin as freelance lawyers who perform work for other firms. Because freelance lawyers work on an as-needed basis, they can work as much (or as little) as they want. Some experienced lawyers choose to supplement their income or work exclusively on a freelance basis for many reasons, which commonly include location, stage of career, and personal life circumstances.

Despite the flexibility of their jobs, freelance attorneys are subject to the same rights and duties as any other lawyer. They must maintain confidentiality, attorney-client privilege and avoid conflicts of interest, which can be challenging since freelance lawyers typically work on a project-by-project basis for several firms, often concurrently.

Local Counsel

Local counsel is often hired to make court appearances on behalf of the attorney of record in order to minimize travel time for firm attorneys who might have to sacrifice an entire workday to travel long distances for a ten-minute hearing.

Another advantage? Since many attorneys are licensed in only one or two jurisdictions, hiring local counsel can be essential when trying a case in an unfamiliar jurisdiction. Local counsellors are usually highly familiar with the local court system, the various individuals involved, and the procedural law followed in that particular area.

The responsibilities of a local counsel can be as simple as reviewing pleadings, researching a legal issue, responding to a notice, or making a court appearance. Although serving as a local counsel can significantly expand an attorney’s opportunities, it is wise to analyze the pros and cons of the engagement since putting one’s stamp on a filing or making an appearance in court is more than just a formality. Serving as a local counsel creates an ethical responsibility to the client. Although a local counsel is not typically the lead counsel, they are more than just a virtual messenger and must uphold their ethical obligations.

Appearance Attorneys

Also called appearance counsel or esquire per diem, an appearance attorney is just one type of contract attorney; however, not all contract attorneys work as appearance attorneys.

Appearance attorneys are experienced lawyers who appear in court on behalf of a client’s primary attorney (absent the client’s presence). Appearance attorneys often appear for cases related to civil and criminal law, bankruptcy, family law, immigration, mediation, arbitration, hearings, depositions, motions, and litigation.
Appearance attorneys may make an appearance to provide pertinent documents, reschedule hearings, and update the judge on the status of a particular case. Following a hearing, the appearance attorney must submit a detailed summary of the outcome of the appearance.

More and more law firms – personal injury firms in particular – have experienced the high cost and inefficient use of attorney time spent making routine court appearances. As a result, many firms have started hiring per diem attorneys to handle such court appearances, enabling in-house attorneys to use their time more efficiently. Consequently, firms that utilize appearance attorneys can improve their realization rates on cases, increase their ability to take on larger caseloads, and reduce the number of permanent full-time attorneys. Most per diem attorneys handle matters in one courthouse or courtroom and do not usually travel to other locations.

How Can Docketly Help You Find the Right Appearance Attorney?

Freelance lawyers are often hired as appearance counsel to go to hearings on behalf of another lawyer and must be licensed in the jurisdiction where they are making the appearance.

Hiring a contract attorney to serve as appearance counsel is not a swift process. Your staff must scour personal freelance attorney websites or take time to access their professional network for recommendations. Even after you contact a contract lawyer, you’ll have to check their references and then outline the nature of the project, all applicable deadlines, and the parties’ names (for conflict check purposes). Once you agree to work together, a communication plan and a project budget will have to be laid out. Lastly, the contract attorney will provide a freelance legal services agreement that will need to be reviewed. And all these steps must happen before even one service is performed.

But what if there were a better way to hire contract attorneys as appearance counsel?

Hiring the proper type of contract attorney to make court appearances can be accomplished without the overhead, onboarding, and pressure that comes with hiring a new associate.

Appearance counsel hiring platforms like Docketly offer a streamlined way to manage the entire process, from hiring to finalizing court reports, by using custom filters that automate tasks. Rather than allocating time to manage the hiring process, your staff can set custom filters to access the right appearance counsel from over 10,000 prequalified nationwide lawyers. Easily follow automated prompts to upload case documents and request coverage where you need it, when you need it. By automating the tasks that don’t need a human touch, you can make more time for ones that do. Contact Docketly today to learn more.

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