That’s why Pittsburgh attorney Efrem Grail turns to legal staffing agencies to hire the contract attorneys he needs to complete occasional work in California, where a blockbuster employment ruling recently made hiring independent contractors a dicey prospect.
The agency he uses, Hire an Esquire, acts as an intermediary by employing California attorneys as W-2 workers to complete work for its law firm clients, insulating the firms from uncertain and restrictive employee classification laws and rulings like California’s landmark Dynamex decision.
“There are only two full-time lawyers here,” said Grail, a former Reed Smith LLP partner who now runs the Grail Law Firm. “We just don’t have the time to get our legal work done, let alone the administration. The last thing I want to be doing is complying with wage-and-hour laws in California. I want to get the right answer for a client in New York or Pittsburgh or Atlanta today.”
Contract attorneys are in a strange place: They’re increasingly in demand, but hiring them is increasingly fraught with risk.
In-house legal departments and smaller firms might hire extra help just to work on a demanding case, or one that demands expertise that their current stable of attorneys might lack. BigLaw firms, meanwhile, make use of contract attorneys as inexpensive alternatives to associates for tasks ranging from document review to litigation.
But the federal government’s rules on classifying independent contractors are vague and occasionally contradictory, and varying state rules are evolving as lawmakers turn their attention to the sparse labor rights afforded to workers in “gig economy” jobs like Uber and Lyft drivers.
So, many in the legal industry are turning to staffing agencies like Hire an Esquire and Major Lindsey & Africa that hire freelance attorneys as employees, insulating the firms from potential liability.