It is not uncommon for practitioners and law firms to employ the services of temporary (or contract) attorneys as the need may arise in contemporary practice. Employers often turn to temporary lawyers to address a variety of needs including workload variations, special projects, matters requiring a unique or particular skillset, and general assistance with such tasks as document review and the drafting of legal memoranda, among other things. As one federal court explained, “economics is the principal reason for emergence of lawyer temping because it permits a firm to service client needs during particularly busy periods by engaging an experienced attorney, without incurring the expense of hiring a permanent employee.” See Carlson v. Xerox, 596 F. Supp. 2d 400, 409 (D. Conn. 2009)(internal citations omitted). This article discusses the ethical obligations and associated risks that flow from engaging the services of a temporary attorney, including areas such as billing for services and adequate disclosure to clients.

Temporary Lawyers in Context

A generally accepted definition of the term “temporary lawyer” includes an attorney hired “to work on a single matter or a number of different matters, depending upon the firm’s staffing needs and whether the temporary attorney has special expertise not otherwise available to the firm.” See Newby v. Enron, 586 F.Supp. 2d 732, 783 n 64 (S.D. Tex. 2008)(Observing that the hiring of a contract or temporary attorney is a common practice in law firms today); see also Takeda Chemical Industries v. Mylan Laboratories, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19614 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 21, 2007)(“In complex litigation, contract attorneys are routinely used by well-established law firms who supervise their work.”). Temporary attorneys are typically employed for a “limited period or purpose” and do not include someone who “is a part time employee of a firm or one who is employed full time but without contemplation of permanent employment, who works only for the employing firm.” See Colo. Formal Ethics Op. 105 (May 22, 1999).

Billing Considerations for Temporary Lawyers’ Services