Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What is a contract attorney?

I've been a contract attorney since 1991. When I first started, the whole concept was fairly new, and people would routinely ask me if I wrote contracts. No, I'd explain, I'm actually a litigator and having nothing to do with drafting contracts. In fact, I come along and try to pick up the pieces after things have fallen apart. What I do, I told them (and have been telling them for 17 years), is provide legal research and writing services to small and mid-size law firms. I handle general business litigation, and will work on divorce or criminal cases only under duress (or if a really good friend asks me for help).

As a contract attorney for 17 years (which is, I suspect, longer than most contract attorneys have been working), I've garnered a fair bit of experience about practice development, insurance, office set up, legal research options, parenting with a practice in the background, etc. I hope to use this blog to develop those themes.

As it is, right now, I have both parenting and practice to do, so I'll sign off. Please check back as I can guarantee you that this will be a well cultivated blog spot.


stephenbrown said...

Contract lawyering sounds like the job for me. I'm a second-year law student, and I absolutely love legal research and writing. I'd like to make a career out of it, but my contracts professor (a law & econ guy through and through) tells us that there's no money in research and writing. I didn't go to law school to strike it rich; I just want to make a decent living. I know you do this part-time, but is there enough work out there to make this a full-time gig?

ARW said...


There is not as much money in contract work as in becoming a partner or even an associate in a big or medium sized law firm. That's one of the trade-offs: more fun and more freedom, but less money. Indeed, on my last day at my old firm, one of my colleagues said to me, "Congratulations. You broke the golden handcuffs."

Also, doing contract work right out of law school is difficult. You simply don't have the practical experience yet, and most clients in the contract work situation don't want to be mentors. They just want to pay you for the work. You often end up, therefore, being a paralegal with a JD: reviewing documents and summarizing depos. Now, I happen not to mind that, but it's not research and writing.

Also, since I've been working for 20 years now, I can command very high fees. You won't be able to do that until you have 4-5 years of law firm experience under your belt.

My suggestion to you, therefore, is that you pay your dues in a law firm and then, after a few years, decide whether that law firm (or any law firm) is right for you, or if you still want to pursue a pure research/writing career. That, then, would be the time to make your move.

mister.thorne said...


Thought you might enjoy this:

Looking for a Contract Lawyer/Editor?

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