The Elevation of the Contract Attorney

The legal industry has experienced substantial change in the past decade, and while the industry appears to be healthy and rebounding (arguably) back to its heyday prior to the last recession, the growing demand for highly valued substantive legal work to be performed by interim/consulting attorneys has increased.  The stigma once attached to temporary legal work as providing less interesting opportunities has faded away as law firm partners and corporate general counsel have realized the benefits of building their groups and departments by utilizing flexible legal talent. Consequently, an increasing number of substantive and career-oriented contract/interim opportunities exist and the demand for experienced contract attorneys is at an all-time high. Many attorneys who have successfully followed the traditional BigLaw career path are now grabbing attractive career options that allow them to stay in the field they love while also allowing them to experience the many perks of legal contract opportunities. Just what are those perks?

Flexibility

Flexibility: the most obvious benefit of legal contract work. More and more attorneys are seeking job opportunities wherein they are offered set hours or are slated only for a short period of time. The traditional legal industry was not known for providing a great work-life balance and contract roles (even long-term ones) offer a refreshing alternative. Some contract attorneys will juggle their obligations outside of work or pursue other interests while working part-time (15–30 hours a week). Others may take on full-time positions, but these roles usually offer a consistent schedule and are limited to 40 hours a week—which is generally unheard of in a law firm setting or even in most in-house environments.  The want or need for overtime work is communicated at the outset of the project, so mutual expectations are set.  Further, a growing number of attorneys are choosing to take on substantive contract opportunities lasting only 6–9 months to make possible travel or tending to other obligations during the remainder of the year.

New and Interesting Work

Gone are the days when interim legal work was limited to menial tasks. In today’s contract legal market, and for a variety of reasons, organizations and firms (big and small) are hiring pedigreed specialists to support their legal teams and to handle myriad responsibilities. For example, a commercial contracts attorney looking to gain experience in the booming technology or life sciences markets may find that a contract role provides him or her with the opportunity to do so. For those not-yet in-house, one of the most critical skillsets general counsel seek in building their teams is prior, successful in-house experience. An attorney looking to transition from a law firm to an in-house role may find that contract work is a great foot in the door and can help prove his/her ability to support a business, thereby making that transition easier and the attorney a less risky hire for a GC. Whether the goal is to broaden one’s substantive legal knowledge or to try on the in-house environment, those attorneys pursuing contract roles are finding these engagements can serve as a great way to gain new experiences and test out new skills that can eventually help them build their resumes.

Variety of Exposure

In addition to gaining and expanding their legal knowhow, contract attorneys are finding that interim roles allow them to gain exposure to a wider range of industries and company types. Attorneys who have spent their careers in large institutions with huge legal teams can explore smaller organizations or even different legal structures when working in a contract capacity. Additionally, junior attorneys reap many benefits when performing contract work: Often when law students graduate or are waiting for bar results, they are able to pursue contract roles that allow them to test out practice areas, company types and industries. It is a “try before you buy” model for both employees and employers alike. Even for more seasoned attorneys who are set on a specific practice area and know what they like in a job and an employer, consulting gives them the chance to see different company cultures and meet people within various companies, which can help guide them in identifying and selecting future career prospects.

Expert-Level Training

The training and speed at which an attorney needs to learn on a contract job is unlike many permanent roles. Companies usually seek contract attorneys because they have a gap in their legal team or they have too much work, therefore, they need attorneys who can hit-the-ground running. Contract attorneys become proficient at working in a fast-paced setting and with diverse teams. The need to learn quickly on the job with minimal training results in contract attorneys becoming experts on a range of topics, which is an invaluable resource. When companies know the skill level of a specific attorney, it is more likely that he or she will be called back at any time or referred to other organizations based on his/her performance.

Network Building

Successfully completing a variety of substantive contract roles can be a highly effective way to build a broad and valuable network. Contract attorneys work with multiple clients and meet a variety of in-house counsel at all levels as well as law firm partners throughout the course of their different projects. Over time, these relationships across multiple organizations can turn into other contract engagements, mentorship opportunities or even permanent job opportunities if that is the individual’s goal. Building this large network across practices, companies and seniority levels is one of the best reasons for an attorney to consider contract roles.

While the interim legal market is not for everyone, it far exceeds the old notion of a “stop gap” in a career. Attorneys at all levels are now seeking out contract work of all kinds and for a variety of reasons. There is a flourishing pipeline of talented attorneys willing to join an organization and add value while also furthering their experience and careers. 

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Laura WeyerLaura Weyer is a Director in our Chicago Solutions Practice Group. She focuses on providing corporate legal departments and law firms with experienced attorneys and specialized paralegals for interim-based and permanent positions. For those seeking alternative means of practicing law, she is committed to finding them challenging and substantive opportunities with the leading firms and corporations across the U.S.

 

Nesli Orhon

Nesli Orhon is a Partner and Recruiting & Professional Development Manager for our Solutions Practice Group. In this role, she works closely with new recruiters providing oversight, strategic support and guidance as they progress in their careers. She prides herself on creating a positive learning environment, where new directors and managing directors can develop their skills and grow in their roles and responsibilities. Nesli uses her experiences as a recruiter to recommend processes and systems that will maximize employee engagement and enhance training and professional development opportunities to help build high-performing teams.

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