Over the last few years, we’ve been involved in the outsourcing of legal research, brief writing, and thousands of other legal projects, which has helped many small law firms (including our own) improve profitability and create a more scalable business model, as we discuss in our founding story.
But outsourcing legal work like research and brief writing is not trivial — something most articles on this topic do not discuss. To do it effectively you need a combination of (a) quality talent and (b) availability. Traditionally, lawyers outsource legal tasks to other attorneys they find via their network or through the state bar, but this has limitations on both the quality and availability fronts.
This post will delve into these limitations and discuss how we, at LAWCLERK, have set out to fix them.
Specifically, we’ll cover:
Downsides of outsourcing legal research and brief writing using traditional contract lawyers.
How we set out to solve these problems with our freelance lawyer marketplace: LAWCLERK.
What you should look for when hiring a freelance lawyer, aka a virtual associate, and how to determine if they’re a good candidate.
Our hope is that after reading this article you’ll get a better understanding of the nuanced pros and cons of different options to outsource legal research and brief writing so you can make an informed decision on your own.
Attorneys have traditionally delegated freelance legal work to contract lawyers found via their network or their bar association. However, both of these options present key problems around limited exposure to very highly qualified lawyers. Let’s discuss each in turn.
At the onset, you may go to your local network and find other lawyers who practice in the same area and could pick up some work. And if you’ve done that, and worked with someone a few times, you’re probably going to reach out to them directly the next time.
However, what if they don’t have the expertise you need for that new case? Or what if they simply don’t have time? Then you’re back at the drawing board, and finding the right person for the job is no easy task.
Say a busy lawyer has an appellate brief they need written, and they know they’ve got two trials coming up. They don’t have the 20 to 30 hours that it may take to write that brief.
So they may call up their buddy at the state bar office and say something along the lines of, “Bob, have you heard about anyone lately who’s slow and could pick up some extra work?”
The problem is that you get who you get, meaning that if, for example, Bob happens to have been at a happy hour a few weeks ago and heard from a certain lawyer that work is slow and they have extra capacity right now, then he can help match them up.
But there’s no way of knowing if there’s someone out there who has a deeper level of expertise to come in and do that work than a random lawyer that Bob at the state bar happens to know.
We recognize this problem from speaking with state bar administrators all over the country who are extremely excited when they hear about our freelance lawyer marketplace, since they no longer have to serve in that matchmaking role (which often leaves the hiring attorney dissatisfied).
LAWCLERK was created to solve the problems that our own small law firm (and many others throughout the country) have when it comes to delegating legal research, brief writing, and other types of legal work. Namely, as we’ve discussed, even if you find a talented contract lawyer that you can turn to time and time again (which isn’t easy), that lawyer may not have the necessary expertise for a new case you get, or simply not have the bandwidth to take on any more work.
Given this, when we launched our marketplace in 2018, the main question we had in mind was: could we attract a large number of talented lawyers, with all types of subject matter expertise, to do freelance legal work?
It turns out, law is uniquely suited to have an incredibly talented freelance pool, because unlike other professions where the best talent always goes to full time positions, there are a lot of experienced lawyers who make an intentional choice to avoid working at a big firm (since it can be very taxing on your personal life and your time).
We often see law professors who have extreme expertise in a field, are approaching retirement, and enjoy taking on freelance work in their field of knowledge for some good side income and to keep fresh on their topic. We have a freelance lawyer like this who argued before the US Supreme Court. But at their stage of life, it absolutely doesn't make sense to go work at a big firm and put in 80 hours a week. Similarly, many talented lawyers choose to have kids and balance family and work life, but once again, working at a big firm doesn't make sense.
Just running into these lawyers by chance via your network or contacts isn't going to expose you to them, but when we built an intentional freelance lawyer marketplace, and promoted it, we realized there are so many lawyers throughout the U.S. who are looking for freelance work specifically for lifestyle reasons.
By having access to a much larger pool of subject matter experts in almost all areas of law, you don’t have to worry about lack of availability and/or expertise, providing peace of mind, since you can’t control when a client greenlights a project that requires more manpower and resources than you currently have.
On average, at least 12 freelance lawyers apply to projects that get posted on our marketplace, so it’s not too overwhelming for hiring attorneys to go through, and still provides a good variety. We hear all the time that hiring attorneys narrow it down to two or three freelance lawyers and have a really hard time deciding, since those candidates all fit the bill (in terms of credentials, years of experience, and subject matter expertise).
In comparison, with the traditional method of getting help from a contract lawyer, finding just one person that not only has availability, but the right expertise, is like finding a needle in the haystack.
One of the biggest advantages of our marketplace is that we make it incredibly easy for hiring attorneys to do their due diligence and find the most qualified freelancer. Every single freelance lawyer provides their resume and a writing sample. They also have reviews and ratings of all the attorneys they’ve worked with. So rather than doing all the legwork yourself, all the information you need to qualify a candidate is right there at your fingertips.
Just as an example, let's say you post a project related to personal injury.
When lawyers apply, you can see which one of them has relevant experience in that area of law (based on their resume, writing sample, reviews, and ratings) and avoid hiring someone who mainly has a working background in, say, an unrelated area like immigration law.
Another incredibly useful feature on LAWCLERK is that whenever a lawyer applies, they can send a short message along with their profile, highlighting why they are the best candidate for the job. Perhaps they just researched the exact same issue for one of their own clients a few months ago. That’s a great win because they’re going to be a few steps further down the road than someone who’s starting fresh on that issue.
While all of the above features are incredibly useful, if we had to narrow it down to the two things that make hiring attorneys most successful with using LAWCLERK, they would be:
Leverage your advisor. Whenever a new attorney joins our platform, they're matched up with one of our free dedicated advisors, who helps that attorney figure out the best way to use our system and leverage it to get work done.
“Build a Team” feature. This feature allows attorneys to create teams for different areas of law and different types of work. Once they find freelance lawyers they like, they can tag them and add them to one of those teams they created, and work together time and time again when they have similar projects coming up (check out this quick video tutorial on how to use the “Build a Team” feature).
If you’d like to learn more, feel free to visit our FAQ page.
Also, we put together several useful resources for attorneys, where you can find:
In-depth guide for legal outsourcing.
Legal project delegation exercise.
Sample projects by area of law.
And much more!