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Hiring a Remote Freelance Lawyer: Is It Right for Your Practice?

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 22, 2016 3:57 PM

Like it or not, hiring in-office lawyers is slowly going the way of the dodo bird. Remote hiring is in. More and more, attorneys are finding themselves mobile rather than sitting down in an office. This is bad news for lawyers looking for stable employment, but as they say -- one's tragedy is another's cause for celebration.

Keep in mind a few factors before you go out to hire your first freelance attorney.

Do You Have the Volume?

Too often, some attorneys hire a freelance attorney who owes no allegiance to any firm simply because they think the act of getting someone will help boost their client base. This is classic putting the cart before the horse. Those attorneys have possibly made a costly mistake.

However, not all is lost. It is ethical to include an arrangement in your representation agreements that will allow you to split fees with a freelance attorney so long as those fees are reasonable, proportional, and otherwise made known and consented to by the client. In which case, paying the other attorney is less of an issue.

Find Another Cybersecurity Nut

These are dangerous and precarious times when it comes to computer security. Ideally, you should find another attorney who is as diligent about cybersecurity as you are -- maybe more. Attorney who freelances should already have a decent scheme in place which allows him to track and organize his files in such a way as to minimize inadvertent disclosures of another client's file.

If you happen to like a particular freelancer, insist that he or she use Virtu or some other email encryption program. If the freelancer balks at this proposal, it's time to keep looking.

Distinguish "Employee" From "Independent Contractor"

The law that governs this issue is currently in flux, with much of the sentiment leaning in favor of previously "misclassified" ICs. Do not let this happen to you. A decent freelancer will have considered this ahead of time and should include a clause that waives his rights to sue you under a misclassification theory. But do not rely on this.

Still, you should be careful to give your freelance attorney most of the work that could be qualified as housekeeping. Basic appearances at court, hearings, responses to pleadings, that sort of stuff. The more you begin to direct the freelancer how he should complete his work, the more you risk of raising employment issues.

Editor's note, August 23, 2016: This article has been updated to address confusion concerning misclassification lawsuits and lawyer fee-splitting.

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