Does Doing Contract Work Doom Your Legal Career? |

Does Doing Contract Work Doom Your Legal Career?


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We often hear from attorneys with whom we are working that they are contemplating doing contract work while they look for permanent employment.
Does Doing Contract Work Doom Your Legal Career?
A. Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes
I have been unable to secure a permanent position since I passed the bar last year, and I have been considering taking temp opportunities until I can find something, but everyone has been telling me that taking on contract work can doom your career. Is this true?

We often hear from attorneys with whom we are working that they are contemplating doing contract work while they look for permanent employment. Generally, these are attorneys who have worked for a while at a law firm, but have been laid off or have relocated. They are thinking about doing contract work for one or more of the following reasons:
  • They need the money that contract work will provide to support themselves during their job search;
  • They believe that contract work will allow them to keep up their skills; and/or
  • They believe that firms will view their contract work favorably, or at least neutrally, when evaluating their application for permanent employment.
Many of these attorneys are surprised to learn that we advise our candidates to avoid doing contract work if at all possible.

Why do we advise against contract work for our candidates? Because it makes them less marketable.

The attorneys with whom we work are not average; they are highly qualified, with strong academic credentials and excellent law firm experience. They are not seeking average positions with average firms; they are looking to take their careers to the highest level with a top law firm. The positions to which they aspire are highly competitive. The firms receive scores of resumes from stellar candidates, and are able to be very selective in deciding whom to interview and hire. Therefore, a candidate’s resume should be as “clean” and compelling as possible.

Unfortunately, top law firms tend to look down on contract work simply because it is contract work. This is true even if a firm hires contract attorneys; partners and hiring coordinators generally view the contract attorneys they hire as not up to par for permanent hiring. Moreover, firms know that, with rare exceptions, contract work does not provide the kind of stimulating work that will allow an attorney to maintain or upgrade his or her legal skills; the work often is rote and unchallenging.
Thus, if a hiring contact at a prestigious law firm to which you are applying sees that you are doing, or have done, contract work, they are less likely to be interested in you. This may not be fair, but it is the reality.

Another problem with contract work is that it increases the likelihood that you will have a conflict with the firm to which you have applied for a permanent position. Conflicts checks are a routine and a necessary part of any law firm hiring decision. While each firm’s conflicts check procedure varies somewhat, you generally should be prepared to provide a list of all clients for whom you have performed legal work in the past three to five years. This includes contract work. How unfortunate it would be if a firm was unable to make you an offer because you did some temporary contract work for a client that has a conflict with one of the firm’s clients! (Obviously, the chances of contract work causing a conflict increase exponentially if you work as a contract attorney for more than one firm.)

Of course, we understand that in certain circumstances, highly qualified attorneys have no choice but to do contract work while they look for a permanent position; financial realities may dictate it. But if you have the means to avoid contract work, you will increase your chances of making a lateral move to a top firm. Moreover, if you must do contract work, try to limit the number of firms and projects with which you become involved. This will lessen the likelihood of conflicts with the firm that you hope to join on a permanent basis.

See the following articles for more information:

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About Harrison Barnes

Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. He is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

About BCG Attorney Search

BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit

Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

Harrison also does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for law firms, companies, and others who hire attorneys each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

You can browse a list of past webinars here: Webinar Replays

You can also listen to Harrison Barnes Podcasts here: Attorney Career Advice Podcasts

You can also read Harrison Barnes' articles and books here: Harrison's Perspectives

Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.

Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.

To read more career and life advice articles visit Harrison's personal blog.

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