Mounting economic pressures have forced the legal profession to explore new ways of increasing productivity and efficiency while reducing costs. As a result, many law firms routinely engage attorneys on a temporary (contract) basis for specific projects. During peak work periods, special projects, family leaves, or other needs specific to each firm, contract legal staffing makes good business sense. In fact, compared to other professionals, attorneys are uniquely suited for temporary assignments. They are trained to come in, analyze each situation, and quickly and efficiently solve the problems presented. Employing contract attorneys is a good method for law firms to reduce their costs in several ways. As soon as an assignment or project ends, the contract attorney goes away.
The law firm has complete flexibility to staff on an as-needed basis. An attorney working on a contract basis is not an employee, so the law firm is not required to provide employee benefits and avoids any overhead costs such as payroll taxes, vacation, sick leave, severance, etc. Also, the firm avoids the hidden costs associated with permanent association with the firm, such as training, partnership, etc. For these reasons, employing contract attorneys for large projects is very appealing to law firms.
As good as contract work can be from the employer side, it is not necessarily as beneficial for the attorney performing the work. Before handling exclusively permanent attorney placements, I was a legal recruiter who handled, among other things, temporary positions. I have found that temporary attorneys usually fall into a few categories. The four major categories are what I call 1) career temps, 2) supplemental-income temps, 3) in-and-out temps, and 4) hopeful temps. Let's take a close look at each.