Making Contract Work Part of Your Job-Finding Strategy

In today's cost-conscious professional environment, legal employers are reluctant to add another salary to their operating expense until they see a clear financial benefit. That's why contract work (also called temporary, freelance or project work) is fast becoming an inside track to long-term employment. Not all temporary opportunities translate into permanent positions though.

Follow these tips to help contract work lead you to a full-time job.

  1. TARGET THE RIGHT EMPLOYERS. Start your search with small to mid-sized law firms. Many now hire contract lawyers to help with what seems to be just a temporary increase in workload. When that spike begins to look more permanent, the contract lawyer becomes an experienced and tested candidate for the new position. Lawyers with some experience in civil litigation or transactional work may discover good opportunities with corporate legal departments. Small but rapidly expanding companies with only one in-house lawyer may need temporary assistance with product chronologies, due diligence, routine filings or discovery work that may evolve into a permanent position as the company grows.
  2. COMMUNICATE YOUR FLEXIBILITY. Whenever you make contact with a potential employer, make it clear that you are willing to prove your suitability for a permanent position by starting out with a period of contract employment. Never offer to take on a project without compensation though. That approach signals more desperation than talent.
  3. DO YOUR BEST WORK. When a hiring lawyer is dissatisfied with the work of a contract lawyer, there are no second chances. For that reason, accept only assignments within your competency and experience. Get clear instructions up front and repeat back what you've been told to confirm you heard it correctly. Be sure to ask for work samples so you can meet the hiring lawyer's expectations of style and format. Then check in regularly as you progress to be certain you're still on track and offer the very best product you can on a timely basis.

Contract work provides some of the critical opportunities that can lead to employment. Contact with potential employers in a context where you can show your ability. It can also be helpful to remember that if there isn't a need for new staff at the company where you are contracting you probably won't be extended an offer. However, it is still important to remain positive and continue to treat the workplace as if a permanent position were available. The situation may change unexpectedly and the impression you have given could be a big asset.

Finally, don't forget about your former contract employer once the contract comes to an end. Check the law firm or company's website and keep an eye on the employment sites they have previously used to advertise openings. Your previous experience with the company and the positive impression you leave with the staff could help you stand out from other applicants. In the interim, additional contract opportunities may arise that can help you pay the bills while continuing to expand and strengthen your contacts in the area of law in which you are seeking employment.