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Contract attorney

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A contract attorney is a lawyer who works on legal cases on a contract basis. Such work is generally of a temporary nature, often with no guaranteed employment term.

A contract attorney is

An attorney temporarily hired by the law office for a specific job or period. When the job or period is finished, the relationship is over.

— Brent D. Roper[1]

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  • ✪ Courtroom Lawyer vs. Contracts Lawyer
  • ✪ Do You Have a Breach of Contract Case?
  • ✪ What is Consideration in a Contract? Learn About Law


I’m Eric Lanigan with Lanigan and Lanigan attorneys in Winter Park Florida. I want to talk for a minute about how lawyers can sometimes be pigeonholed into certain categories and why you want to avoid that. And I think that the most common pigeon-holing so to speak that goes on is whether a lawyer is a litigator or a transactional lawyer. And there’s a sense that the two never cross. And in many areas that is true. You might have a lawyer who litigates real estate issues, title deficiencies, undisclosed defects on the property and they may never do a real estate closing because those two things can be completely separate and distinct. But there are a lot of areas where the separation should not exist and I think the most common area is in the writing of contracts. And we have been involved in so many cases where you read the contract and you listen to what the client tells you and you’re thinking to yourself, based on what he’s telling me how on earth did they end up with this document as their contract? We recently had a case that ended up when you’ve taken into account both sides there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys fees. Practically approaching a million dollars in attorney’s fees. And it all boiled down to they had this beautiful, looked beautiful, 20, 30-page contract that had been written up in quite a complex transaction. But when you listen to the client tell you about the essence of what the deal was supposed to be you just have to look up and tell the client, it’s just not there. There are all these beautiful paragraphs that I’m sure were cut and pasted from different forms from here and there and it all flows pretty well, but it’s not what the client had intended the contract to be. And a litigator when they’re considering a contract is often because he’s been to court and he’s litigated over contacts and he’s litigated over a particular phrase or whether the comma is at the beginning or the end and all of those things which can change the meaning of paragraphs is much more sensitive to the idea of whether or I should say much more sensitive to the concept of whether the written word is consistent with the mental impressions of the parties of the contract as to what they intend. And he’s been to court, he’s litigated these things. He’s argued it in front of juries, he’s listened to judges and juries comment about the language that’s been used in various litigation regarding contracts and so he’s much more sensitive to, all right, if this gets into a dispute, does this really say what is on the minds of these people or is it something that came out of a book that sounds great? And there’s a big difference there and we’ve found that many times when a contract is written by a lawyer who has never been in the courtroom is all very formal, it’s all very legalistic, but it may not be the agreement that the parties had intended. Which is why when we write a contract I listen to the client about what it is that they’re talking about. Whether it’s a real estate deal, whether it’s a franchise, whatever it may be and we’ll say, when all is said and done, I want you to take a legal pad and forget about what any legalese, forget about any structure, just give me 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, what is the deal supposed to be in your mind and what is that? And we’re going to put together a contract based upon those elements that you’ve told us makes up the deal. So we’re going to conform the deal to your concept of the transaction you’re about to enter into rather than try to put a square peg into a round hole which is to conform your deal to some form paragraphs out of a book somewhere. So when you’re getting ready to write a contract, ask your lawyer “have you ever litigated issues like this? Have you ever been in a courtroom and dealt with litigation over these types of issues or this type of contract that I’m entering into?” Because that can be a very important aspect of whether the lawyer can write the kind of agreement that you want. Again I’m Eric Lanigan, Lanigan and Lanigan attorneys Winter Park Florida.


Civil litigation

The work of contract attorneys often varies. They can be engaged activities such as document review in response to a document subpoenas or request for production of documents. In such projects, contract attorneys may review tens of thousands, if not millions, of pages of documents and mark them as responsive to a particular request, or protected as attorney work product or under the attorney–client privilege. Large firms have learned that contract attorneys can perform this work much more cost effectively than high-priced associates.

Many contract, or freelance, attorneys perform legal research, draft legal briefs, and provide a full range of other services to law firms of all sizes. These attorneys typically work for themselves, rather than for temporary agencies, and provide their services to other law firms on an as-needed basis.[2]

Some people who hold juris doctor degrees, but who are awaiting bar admission, work as temporary professionals in law firms doing the same type of work as contract attorneys. In other situations, a law firm may, due to a conflict of interest, be required to hire a contract attorney as Cumis counsel in certain cases.

Contract attorneys typically work on a project-by-project basis and are not full-time law firm employees. However, they also develop long-lasting relationships with firms that regularly or semi-regularly send work to the contract attorney. Many small firms find that the use of contract attorneys provides them the flexibility to grow their business without hiring salaried employees. [3]

According to the American Bar Association, law firms can add a surcharge to the fees of their contract attorneys so long as the final fee charged to the client is reasonable.[4] Particularly in a slowing economy, the use of contract attorneys gives firms a competitive edge in the marketplace, helping them to control costs while increasing profitability.[5]


In writing about the disparity between CEO and worker pay, New York Times best-selling author and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich said:

Similarly, the legal profession, which is topped by law firm partners billing hundreds of dollars an hour, now has a new proletariat of temp lawyers working for $19-25 an hour in sweatshop conditions. On sites like, temp lawyers report working 12 hours a day, six days a week, in crowded basements with inadequate sanitary facilities. According to an article in American Lawyer, a legal temp at a major New York firm reports being 'corralled in a windowless basement room littered with dead cockroaches,' where six out of seven exits were blocked.[6]

Assigned counsel work in criminal defense

In counties without a public defender, or without an alternate defender, a contract attorney may be hired to do assigned counsel work. A legal aid group may be hired to do such work as if a temporary work agency, such as the Legal Aid Society of New York City. Other states or counties may have a panel of lawyers who act as contract attorneys. Some critics of this system have accused the method of leading to ineffective assistance of counsel in criminal cases.

Contract legal assistant

A law firm may, under certain circumstances, hire a freelance paralegal, commonly known as a contract legal assistant, to perform many of the tasks that a contract attorney might perform.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Brent D. Roper, Practical Law Office Management, 3rd ed., pp. 5 (2007 Thomson Learning).
  2. ^ "Full Service Freelance Litigation Support Information". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  3. ^ Velazquez, Ashley. "Small Firms: The Benefit of Contract Attorneys". Hire an Esquire. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  4. ^ "Summary of American Bar Association Formal Opinion 00-420:  Surcharge to Client for Use of a Contract Lawyer". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  5. ^ "The Myth of Associate Profitability: Why Freelance Legal Services Preserve Profit Margins in an Uncertain Economic Climate". Archived from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  6. ^ Ehrenreich, Barbara (28 March 2008). "Going to Extremes: CEOs vs. Slaves". Huffington Post.
  7. ^ Brent D. Roper, Practical Law Office Management, 3rd ed., pp. 8-9, 147 (2007 Thomson Learning).
This page was last edited on 2 October 2019, at 17:00
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