The Contract Attorney: Your Designated Pinch Hitter

It's an average day at the office and everything is moving along nicely—until a new matter lands on your desk and you are faced with a need, a need for a specific expertise that no one on your legal team has. The debate then ensues: Do you turn to your outside counsel? Do you start the search for an in-house counsel to put on the permanent payroll? What are the chances this type of issue would need to be addressed again? The conversations then turn to talks of cost and manpower range, and oftentimes, the company ends up spending more time and energy on an issue that has a much simpler, more flexible solution: contract attorneys.

A contract attorney is an experienced lawyer who, for a variety of reasons, has chosen a different path for his/her legal career. He/she has the same education as the lawyers within your department but may also have a variety of unique experiences having worked in a multitude of environments, especially since he/she started working on a contractual basis.

When you hire a contract attorney, you have a great deal of flexibility in how you utilize his/her time. For example, you can choose whether to sit the attorney on-site within your legal department or let him/her telecommute. Unlike using outside counsel, you as the hiring manager have direct control and oversight of the attorney, allowing you to supervise his/her work and make adjustments in real time. Further, as the hiring manager, you're able to select, by way of interview, who will be completing the work—something that we have found enhances cultural integration. A contract attorney is a dedicated resource for your team and can commit to the term of service that you need—and adjust swiftly to any fluctuations.

There's also the added benefit of "trying before you buy." In the event headcount opens up or you find yourself needing to make a permanent hire, the contractor currently working for you may be the best place to start. Within a few months, you will have a feel for his/her skills and cultural fit, and he/she has probably gained the institutional knowledge that would give a leg up over hiring from the outside. If he or she isn't an ideal fit, you'll know in advance before you make a bigger investment.

Utilizing contract attorneys typically comes with a significant cost savings, particularly as compared to outside counsel. For example, at Major, Lindsey & Africa, 95% of our contract attorney placements in the Chicago area are billed at an all-inclusive rate of $100–190 per hour. This is a rate that includes not only the attorney's compensation but also the costs of employment, such as benefits, and recruiting fees. The costs of employing someone on a permanent basis can run up to a third of their salary (including benefits, taxes, etc.), which is much higher than the cost of hiring a contract attorney. And not only are you seeing a cost savings, the onus of any employment risk lands on the search firm, not your organization—which goes back to the benefits of “trying before you buy."

The first steps to building a world-class legal team start with understanding the talent that is available to you and the best structure for your team. Sometimes making a permanent hire will be the most cost-effective option, and there are always times you will need to lean on outside counsel. But there is a third option of hiring a contract attorney who can support your immediate needs within your budget and timeframe. Working with a legal recruiter who has intimate knowledge of the legal landscape can help you weigh your options and set you on the path to success.

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