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Freelance Attorneys: A Valuable Alternative For In-House Counsel…Sometimes

by Editors on January 26, 2006

By James Hartt, Esq. (Published with Permission)
To use an economics term, what is the opportunity cost of an in-house attorney’s decision to outsource work to a freelance attorney instead of opting for the services of a typically more expensive, "traditional" law firm? The answer necessarily depends upon two interrelated variables, the first of which relates to the experience and talent of the freelancer in question. Simply put, the more skill a freelancer can bring to any given task, the less desirable the "traditional" law firm becomes for the in-house counsel.  After all, who wouldn’t opt for "cheap and talented", over "expensive and talented", if all else were equal?    
The second variable pertains to the importance of the project(s) being outsourced. "Traditional" law firms can, and often do provide in-house counsel with invaluable advice, and precious legal representation, particularly when the stakes are high and the law firm’s resources are required. In other instances, law firms can provide specialized forms of legal talent (IP/Trademark comes to mind) the quality of which is not likely to be found with a run-of-the-mill freelancer, or elsewhere.
But when one looks to the typical legal issues and tasks routinely faced by in-house counsel, one can safely deduce that much of the work is "low stakes" type-stuff, and certainly not "rocket science".  It is with humdrum, "everyday" issues and tasks such as these that in-house attorneys could really save their companies a ton.  Why then do in-house counsel tend to outsource some of their more simple projects to firms charging $150, or more per hour when they could spend $60 per hour and obtain the same or similar result? The author can come up with only one reason: fear.  Fear that the freelancer will not meet minimum standards of competency. There tends to be a stigma associated with freelancers and, conversely, a pedestal upon which traditional lawyers are presumed to sit.
Obviously, traditional firms serve their purpose. But in-house attorneys would be well served by simply putting aside their fears, and by working to find a freelancer with whom they feel comfortable working. Unnecessary billables are tantamount to fat that must be trimmed, like all other corporate fat. 
James Hartt is a Freelance Attorney serving in-house counsel nationwide & President of Hartt Legal, LLC
Admitted: NJ, NY, AZ

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