Should you consider a career as a contract attorney? Here are some pros and cons:
Practical experience. Law school doesn't teach you how to practice law, but due to the high cost of training, many employers want someone who already has experience. How are you supposed to get any experience if no one will hire you because you have no experience? A contract attorney position will allow you to try your hand at projects such as research or motion writing, without the law firm having to invest in training. It is a good way to gain the practical experience necessary to impress the next hiring partner.
The ability to explore a variety of practice areas. Contract attorneys, not tied to one law firm practicing one area of law, are in a unique position to explore a wide variety of practice areas. If you're not sure what area you want to commit to practicing for the rest of your life, being a contract attorney allows you to jump between practice areas, learning as much as possible.
Flexibility and control. Contract attorneys have no set schedule. You work when you want to. You take the assignments that you like. You don't have to work for that one law partner you absolutely hate if you don't want to.
First step to a solo practice. Have you ever considered hanging up your shingle and opening up your own practice? Being a contract attorney is a great way to start. Your "clients" are other attorneys, and you're getting experience drumming up business. As a contract attorney, you're practically a solo already, but instead of marketing your services directly to consumers, you're just marketing to other attorneys.
Lack of guidance and resources. As a contract attorney, you don't have the same access to resources, such as practice guides, Internet research services, and training, that a law firm attorney would. This means you'll likely be figuring out how to do everything by yourself. I hope you like your local law library or know a lot of practicing attorneys you can call on.
Unsteady income and no job security. Being a contract attorney is like playing poker with your income. Some months you could be flooded with projects, and the money just falls into your lap. Other months, not a single attorney would need you to write even a measly subpoena. Just make sure you save up enough to survive the lean months.
Little career advancement. Unless you take the plunge and become a solo attorney, there will be no ladder climbing for you. You are the person that the law firm brought in to pinch hit when business is good, not the person they trained and groomed for advancement to partner.
Mind-numbing work. Remember what we said before about exploring new practice areas? Well, there is also the chance that you'll be stuck doing a lot of document review, because it pays the bills.
Bottom line: Being a contract attorney, either by choice or necessity, could be a great career step, but be sure to also watch out for the pitfalls.