If you are an attorney who is currently considering career options or alternatives, then you likely have considered the world of temporary or “contract attorney” work to bridge the gap or as a career option.
It is indeed a reasonable consideration, particularly if you need an income while considering career options or as a possible career pathway. However, there are some pros and cons to consider when looking at the possibility of work as a contract attorney. In this article, we will discuss those pros and cons, so you will be able to make an informed decision on how it will impact your legal career in the long term.
The Need for Contract Attorneys and The Different Types of Contract Attorneys Out There
As you likely know, law firms and in-house legal teams find lots of benefits in using contract attorneys. Typically, when a significant case demands substantial document review, the firm or company will take on many temporary/contract attorneys to handle the increased need. The law firm or company realizes benefits because the increased workforce lasts only as long as the big case or transaction is pending. Once the project is over, those attorneys’ contracts will end. Other benefits are not carrying the cost of health benefits, vacation time, and severance pay.
So, are there benefits for the contract attorney?
Possibly. The world of contract work essentially creates three types of contract attorneys, who have different motivations for taking on contract work, as follows:
- For Freedom and Flexibility.Many attorneys do not like being tied to one employer, are not seeking partnership-track or internal career advancement typical of the legal profession, and may have another hobby or pursuit that motivates them to remain as a temporary attorney. Thus, one type of contract attorney is the person who wishes to make a career out of contract work.
- As Supplemental Income. Being a contract attorney can be a strategic move for lawyers trying to start a solo practice or other entrepreneurial endeavor. Doing contract work on a seasonal or part-time basis may be done in addition to the attorney’s full-time profession.
- As a Way in the Door. Finally, contract work can be an option for those hoping to get their “foot in the door” with a targeted organization and ultimately to a full-time position. As with other businesses, giving an employer a sample of your work in real-time may entice that employer to take the next step and bring you on full-time.
Contract Work: The Pros
With an understanding of the basics behind contract work, let us now discuss the pros and cons. Regardless of your motivations, contract work can be beneficial for your legal development.
- You Could Get Varied Experience. Taking a temp job may mean testing the waters in your career. There are many new or emerging practice areas in the legal profession, and sometimes it is not easy to know what you really enjoy until you dip your toes in the water and try it. This is one of the biggest benefits of taking on temporary work as a lawyer. Additionally, if you are able to secure a permanent position where you were a temp, then you are that much more comfortable because you have already “tried the organization or firm on for size.”
- Your Skills Stay Sharp. Regardless of your experience, it is never too late to sharpen your skills. For seasoned attorneys, taking a temporary position means keeping your skills fresh, and avoiding gaps in your resume. For young lawyers, you will get to learn life at a law firm or company. Secondments generally are not granted early on in a law firm career; a temp assignment may provide an in-house experience early in your career.
- Temp Positions May Offer Networking Opportunities. Many lawyers use contract jobs as a way to get their foot in the door. This can be a good strategy depending on the organization, its policies, and its lawyers. Some firms or companies may consider temp lawyers for more permanent positions in the future, and some may not. Equally as important it is a way to work with lawyers and build your professional network. We receive referrals from lawyers who have worked with “temp attorneys” who can vouch for their legal competencies.
- Temp Jobs May Have More Flexibility. The greatest benefit to contract work is the flexibility that you will typically not have with full-time positions. That slight separation from the full-time employees allows for greater autonomy, and less stress concerning your work schedule.
Contract Work: The Cons
Depending on where you want to work, your planned career trajectory, and other factors, taking that temporary or interim position may not do you any favors.
- Temporary Positions May Not Come with Benefits. While flexibility may be your goal, understand that contract jobs likely will not come with benefits, like health insurance, vacation time, sick leave, and retirement plans.
- The Work May Be Tedious and Restrictive. As you might expect, contract attorneys will be called on to do the so-called legal “grunt work” associated with a big case or transaction. Constant document review might be tough over a long period of time, and it does not provide the type of varied experiences you might want. To the extent that you can quantify or qualify your contributions, the document review type of work may be valuable.
- The So-Called “Resume Hit” – The Perception Issue. Probably the biggest downside to contract work is that a mention of being a contract attorney on your resume might hurt your chances for full-time positions later in your career. In short, it is possible that in the future, a potential employer will perceive contract work as narrower and providing less experience, thus hurting your chances as a candidate. Although there is some movement in alternative career choices, the limitation of contract assignments carries the perception issue.
That is not to say that contract work is a fatal mark on your career. That is certainly not true. Instead, you should just be sure that you have a good, reasonable explanation for why you chose to pursue contract work for a period of time. Circumstances like the pandemic, a career change, and family obligations are all rational reasons why contract work would make sense at some point in your career. In sum, contract employment on your resume will only be a hindrance if you are not prepared to explain the circumstances of your choice.
So, should you try contract work? Of course, it depends on your specific situation and future goals. But before you leap, be sure to consider the following questions:
- Are the assignments like document review likely to harm or help your career growth? How would you perceive the work experience if you read it on a resume?
- What are your short-term-to-long-term position options?
- Do the hiring entities have policies against hiring contract attorneys?
- Is there room for advancement in a contract position?
- Will the contract work help develop new practice areas or sharpen existing ones? Does it provide an opportunity to learn new technology?
Taking a contract attorney position is not necessarily a “good” or “bad” thing. Be sure you consider how it might impact your future and potential long-term prospects. If the position works for you, take it. If not, long-term opportunities are regularly opening.
Hold onto your north star- we work many hours in our careers and hope to achieve some level of career satisfaction and possibly reward