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When corporate attorney Charles Hecht and his law partner dissolved their partnership five years ago, Hecht decided to launch his own solo practice. But rather than hire an associate, he began to use contract attorneys to help handle the workload. “I did not want to have the fixed overhead of a full-time associate because I did not know what the workload was going to be,” said Hecht of Hecht & Associates, a corporate and securities law firm in Manhattan. “The advantage is you are only paying them [contract attorneys] for the hours you use them. It’s an easy short-term solution.” Contract attorneys, sometimes referred to as “temporary” or “per diem” attorneys, are independent contractors — and not employees of the attorney or law firm using their services. Small firm and solo practitioners said hiring contract attorneys is often preferable because it affords them more flexibility to juggle workloads — and bring on additional counsel only when necessary. Hecht said he has saved tens of thousands of dollars by using contract attorneys only when necessary rather than having a full-time associate on staff. Typically, he said, an associate would be paid a base salary of $130,000, plus insurance and a pension plan — totaling roughly $200,000 per year. In contrast, he pays contract attorneys hourly rates that are much less expensive. “The advantage is that if things get slow, instead of giving the contract attorney 40 hours, he gets 20,” Hecht said. Hecht said he believes that contract attorneys also wind up doing more challenging and rewarding work when employed by solo practitioners or small firms. He said he uses his two contract attorneys as “real lawyers, doing real legal work.” According to Hecht, large firms tend to use contract attorneys for more perfunctory document review projects. The use of contract attorneys is on the rise, according to Katherine Frink-Hamlett, an attorney and founder of Frink-Hamlett Legal Solutions, a placement firm that provides contract and permanent attorneys to law firms and corporate law departments in the New York Metro area. She said the business has evolved over the last six years and estimated that more than 25 percent of the contract attorneys she places are with firms that employ fewer than 15 attorneys. Ms. Frink-Hamlett, who is also Diversity in Action columnist for the New York Law Journal Magazine, attributes that growth to the changing image of the contract attorney, and an increased willingness on the part of small, midsize and even large firms to hire contract attorneys to perform more substantive work. “There has been a longstanding image of contract attorneys or so-called “temps” as being less skilled than their permanent counterparts; most are thought to be document reviewers,” explained Ms. Frink-Hamlett. “That is not the case … . The team of contract attorneys holed up in an office working away is not necessarily the most prevalent type.” Today, assignments for contract attorneys run the gamut — everything from drafting sophisticated, complex loan documents, to settlement negotiations, to court appearances and litigation, she said. Contract attorneys are paid an hourly rate or on a per-project basis. Hourly rates can range from $19 to $35 for document review work to $30 to $100 and up for a specialized attorney, said Ms. Frink-Hamlett. In some cases, contract attorneys are paid a daily fee for their services. Personal injury attorney Ronald J. Katter routinely uses contract attorneys when he confronts scheduling conflicts, such as court appearances in two different counties on the same day. “My experience is to retain them on a per assignment basis whether it be for a court appearance or deposition, and I would like that matter covered without having to postpone or adjourn it,” said Katter, a solo practitioner who is co-chair of the New York County Lawyers’ Association Solo and Small Firm Practice Committee. Katter estimated that 20 percent of the attorneys he knows use contract attorneys on a regular basis for routine court appearances, depositions and real estate closings. In fact, Katter himself worked as a part-time contract attorney early in his career to supplement his income. LARGER PROJECTS Those working as contract attorneys typically fall into three basic categories, according to Ms. Frink-Hamlett. “One would be predominantly women trying to do the work-life balance,” she said. The second group is comprised of “very, very senior attorneys” who have been downsized from law firms or corporate law departments. “They have great credentials, extraordinary skills, but for various reasons find themselves in the job market,” she said. The third category is the junior group. “They are one to five years out of law school, and some haven’t yet found a permanent position.” Sometimes, she said, the assignments can lead to full-time work. Another reason one might hire a contract attorney is for a specialty not regularly practiced by the attorney or firm that has been retained to provide such services. Stephanie Furgang Adwar of Furgang & Adwar, a two-person intellectual property boutique firm in Manhattan, said that other firms or attorneys that do not practice in her niche area have contracted her to work on a per-project basis. “We do act as contract attorneys when people have intellectual property or entertainment issues. They call us, and we assist them on those types of matters,” she said. “We are mostly our own practice, but from time to time, we come on as entertainment counsel.” In addition, Ms. Furgang Adwar said she uses contract attorneys for larger litigation projects that come into the firm. “For the most part, we handle everything ourselves, but sometimes things can get a little hairy,” she said. “There are very experienced attorneys who work at small law firms at very substantive, senior capacities,” said Ms. Frink-Hamlett. “I can’t imagine any provider of legal services, be it a firm, corporate law department or document management attorney, not utilizing contract attorney services at some point because the ebb and flow of matters dictate there should be an ebb and flow in the resources used.” Katter, the New York-based personal injury attorney, said he knows a number of “very experienced” lawyers who work as contract attorneys. “It offers them flexibility and independence,” he said. “Some people do alternate careers in the arts that they are able to finance through that type of work. I know people who have made careers doing appearances for other law firms. They are happy that they don’t have to worry about the clients.” Helaine Hudson, who practices transactional, corporate and technology law, was working as in-house counsel at a financial software company when she was offered a contract to write, “Guess the Verdict: Over 100 Clever Courtroom Quizzes to Test Your Legal Smarts” for Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. in November 2004. At the time, she was entertaining the idea of going solo, and phoned a law school colleague in private practice to find out what that would entail. Her call put her one step closer to founding the Hudson Law Firm, a transactional, corporate and technology law firm, based in Westchester County. It also landed her her first assignment as a contract attorney. It turned out the lawyer friend she called that day was “swamped” and needed help. He paid her $100 an hour for her services. Soon a second solo practitioner, a litigator, hired her. The litigator “was looking for someone to pick up some slack, 10 hours here, 20 hours there,” Ms. Hudson explained. “We came up with a rate, and I started doing some work for him while trying to put my own firm together.” Ms. Hudson was paid on an hourly basis, and was covered by her own malpractice insurance. She is currently general counsel at a management/consulting firm in Stamford, Conn. Often contract attorneys are not covered under the hiring attorney or firm’s malpractice insurance policy, and must either purchase their own coverage or risk performing the work uninsured. MAKING THE CONNECTIONS The best way to find a contract attorney is “word of mouth,” according to the lawyers interviewed for this article. Katter suggested that attorneys “get recommendations” from lawyers practicing in the county or area of law in which they need coverage. Other venues include placement firms or classified advertisements. Katter said there are also lawyers or law firms who provide specific lawyers in particular counties. He cited one contract attorney who operates solely in Queens County and is known around the courthouse as the “Queens per diem guy.” Many small firm and solo practitioners said they prefer to contract with the same attorneys when using outside help. “We know that they are good attorneys, tried and true, and that they operate at our standards, which are very high,” said Ms. Furgang Adwar. Hecht is so concerned about the quality of work produced by his contract attorneys that he insists they work out of his office full-time — even when they are doing work for other clients. That way he is assured of their continued cooperation should a big project suddenly come in. “I want them here,” he said. “It’s a trade-off.” And while there are plenty of advantages to using a contract attorney, Hecht pointed out that there is also a downside. “They are not the typical Wall Street-type in their button down suit, who work 80 hours a week in their shuttered office,” he explained. “Those are not the kind of people who become contract lawyers, which has its advantages and disadvantages.” “If you are going to use a contract attorney, you’ve got to really be flexible,” he continued. “They all have their idiosyncrasies, and you have to work with them. I know it goes with the territory. You don’t get the 9 to 9, eager-beaver group, even though you are paying them an hourly rate.” After nearly five years in solo practice, Hecht, who is in his 60s, is starting to look for an associate to join his firm. When he offered the position to one of his longtime contract attorneys, a man who has worked near 40-hours weeks for him over the past three years, the lawyer declined. While he enjoys practicing law, he made it clear, Hecht said, that he was not interested in the 80-hour workweeks that are oftentimes an integral part of full-time employment at a law firm. Katter said he has found no drawbacks to using a contract attorney. But he has a word of caution for those thinking about using one: Be diligent when explaining the role they want the contract attorney to play. “It is always important to tell them what their instructions are, and to be clear on the limits of their authority when they do work for you.” Lisa Pulitzer is a journalist and the author of seven non-fiction books.

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