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Contractors in Demand

By Megan Kinneyn | Mar. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Mar. 2, 2007

Contractors in Demand

Concerns about cost and the desire for increased flexibility prompt both law firms and in-house counsel to hire a lot more on-call lawyers. By Chuleenan Svetvilas

By Chuleenan Svetvilas
      Edited by Martin Lasden
Firms and legal departments welcome on-call lawyers.
      The flexibility and lower cost of using contract attorneys have prompted law firms and in-house counsel to hire more of them. Smaller firms can look large by having a slew of contract attorneys on call. And larger firms can hire a small army for a single project.
      "We are using contract attorneys increasingly in all of our offices," says Lori Schechter, who chairs litigation at Morrison & Foerster. "So we came up with a system for managing, training, and supervising contract attorneys to ensure that clients get the representation they expect." In 2004 the firm used 21 contract attorneys; in 2006 it used 200.
      The growing burden of electronic discovery has been a prime factor. Just a few years ago, too many associates were spending inordinate amounts of time doing document review. But Schechter says hiring contractors for that work "ensures that associates get more diverse experience and supervisory experience."
      Meanwhile, on the corporate side, not only have contract lawyers become more acceptable, but some executives are specifically instructing their outside counsel to use contract attorneys to help control costs. Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal, for example, typically does not use contract attorneys but will if a client requests it, says Edwin B. Reeser, managing partner of the firm's Los Angeles office. The firm will also suggest contract lawyers to a client if it makes sense for a particular case.
      "In-house attorneys are under more pressure to cut costs," says Andrea Hunolt, San Francisco branch director of the Robert Half Legal staffing agency. "We are seeing a great increase in the use of project attorneys for in-house legal departments." Hunolt says some legal departments are cutting their budgets in half by using contract attorneys: For example, in-house counsel may bring document review inside and then have outside counsel handle certain parts of litigation.
      "General counsel staff their departments very leanly, but they need to be responsive," says Mehul Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Axiom Legal, which specializes in assigning contract attorneys for engagements in corporate legal departments. Axiom attorneys work primarily on sophisticated matters as part of an in-house corporate team, and their fees are 50 percent to 60 percent below law firm rates, he says.
      As the demand for contract lawyers increases, so does the supply. And, as it turns out, flexibility is as important for contract attorneys as it is for the firms and companies that hire them. "Some people don't want to be in a world of 2,400 billable hours," says Hunolt. Others are retirees, mothers, or people pursuing other interests. And still others?particularly in Los Angeles?work part time to finance dreams of acting or writing screenplays.

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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