I use Tweetdeck to manage my Twitter account. Because I’m increasingly interested in the gig economy as applied to the legal sector, I’ve created a list that tracks mentions of the term “freelance attorney” on Twitter. Honestly, the results I see are fairly boring – and maybe even kind of sad. Most of the messages are freelance lawyers looking for work or the occasional forlorn consumer trying to figure out where or how to find a freelance lawyer. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big Twitter fan, but here’s a pro tip: it’s fairly unlikely that the occasional tweet of “I’m available for freelance legal work” is going to land you any freelance legal gigs any time soon.
But I can’t blame people for trying. While the method may be suspect, the medium is perfect for finding freelance legal help and it’s far better than the old ways of doing it. Back in the day hiring lawyers didn’t have many options to find freelance attorneys beyond the few legal temp agencies that existed, their professional networks or, maybe, ads in the back of the bar magazine. Today, we have the magic of the internet that not only facilitates connections between otherwise disparate and expensive resources but provides mechanisms to vet and a platform to easily pay freelance lawyers.
Finding the freelancer
Internet adoption/penetration in the United States is extremely high. While I’m certain there remain attorneys who utilize the internet only minimally if at all (shout out to the big law partner who, at my first legal job before law school, handwrote his responses to email and had his secretary type them up and respond) that number has to be increasingly small. If you’re a hiring lawyer looking for a freelancer a simple Google search will return literally millions of leads, not to mention connections to aggregators and marketplaces from generic, like Craigslist, to legal-specific and highly tuned like LAWCLERK. This is to say nothing of more creative legal professionals like the young lawyer I came across recently who had one website for his small law firm and another advertising him as “your freelance lawyer.” Yes, it’s true that you’ve got to figure out how to get people to that website to know you exist, but I love the effort. In short, if you’re looking to find freelance legal help, it’s never been easier than it is today.
Vetting the freelancer
But just as finding is only the first step in engaging freelance legal help, it’s also the tip of the iceberg as far as how the internet improves the freelance legal ecosystem. Again, if you were in search of a freelance lawyer in those dark days before the internet, you’d have to make some kind of arrangements to get physical access to any kind of sample work product – be that USPS, courier, or old-fashioned IRL meeting. Now, no sooner than you’ve found a freelance legal resource you can get access to sample work-product – in the worst possible case you’ll have to email them for it.
And getting samples isn’t the only thing that the internet makes easier. It also facilitates the creation, sharing, and subsequent use of social proof in the form of ratings and reviews to further validate a prospective freelance candidate’s quality.
Paying the freelancer
I listened to an episode of the great NPR podcast How I Built This about AirBnB with AirBnB founder Joe Gebbia. I was interested to learn that the founders found the “business model” for AirBnB when they realized that while people might, under the right circumstances, sign up to stay on a stranger’s couch the host and guest found exchanging money to be awkward and a bit uncomfortable. AirBnB was able to insert itself between guest and host and provide a service that eliminated that discomfort.
While freelance lawyering has always been a more acknowledged commercial gig than renting out your spare room to strangers on the internet, any freelancer or small business will tell you that cash flow is king and securing payment for services rendered is always top of mind.
Enter the internet. Whether through online payment processors like PayPal or more sophisticated marketplaces with payment processing built in, the internet can eliminate some of the risk inherent in freelance lawyering in any number of ways. First, a few systems, like LAWCLERK, have already anticipated the ethical hurdles that freelance lawyering inherently raises. In the case of LAWCLERK, they did the ethics research for you and then built the system to insulate hiring lawyers and the law clerks they hire on the platform from risk. Second, most of the simple internet-based marketplaces for freelance attorneys provide a way for payment to change hands – some even including escrow-like features so that the freelance attorney can rest assured that the hiring attorney can and will (if the work product is satisfactory) pay – preserving cashflow certainty, for both parties, and alleviating the awkwardness and discomfort of money changing hands.
So, whether you’re a hiring lawyer desperately but misguidedly seeking a freelance lawyer on Twitter or a freelance lawyer similarly desperately but misguidedly seeking freelance legal work on Twitter: you’re in the right neighborhood but you’re knocking on the wrong door. The internet can and will help in finding, vetting, and paying a freelance attorney. It’s perfect for that!