Balancing Work and Home Life: The Contract Attorney

You may face a point in your career when finding a balance between home and work life become a priority. What options might be available? Our expert's answer just may be the solution you have been looking for.

Balancing Home and Work Life

Q: I graduated from law school in 1987. I then worked in NYC in the personal injury and products liability areas until 1997 when my son was born. I am currently home with two toddlers and would like to make some money and keep my interest in the law alive. Of course, with two little children, I don't have a ton of time. Do you have any suggestions as to how I could work out of my home, using my law degree, with these constraints?

A: Your best bet for a home-based, part-time business is to work as a contract lawyer, i.e., to perform legal services for other lawyers on an hourly or project basis.

With ten years of solid litigation experience, you'd be wise to start your search by contacting lawyers you knew, and who respected your work, when you were practicing law. Even if they don't have work to send you they may know others in the community who do, and their recommendation can help seal the deal.

Many busy solo and small firm practitioners hire contract lawyers to help them out with overload, especially by researching and writing trial briefs, jury instructions and other time-intensive legal memoranda. Contracting to provide these services can allow you to maintain and expand your legal experience, while limiting your involvement and the demands on your time significantly.

You may be most successful contacting attorneys that practice the same sort of law that you are experienced in. However, consider other kinds of attorneys whose clients may also need your services.

Don't limit yourself to business in your immediate geographic area either. Email and fax machines make it easy to service clients in other cities. In fact, I know of a law firm in Alaska that uses contract lawyers living in Maine and Texas. You can't get much farther away than that!

Advances in technology are making work from home increasingly common. Chat programs can allow for face-to-face conferences with supervising attorneys or clients and cloud sharing can allow you to exchange documents with an employing law firm throughout the drafting and editing process. There are even a growing number of computer and phone apps that can help you effectively work from home.

You can make a contract practice as flexible as you wish. Just get in the habit of accepting projects you know you can complete by the stated deadline, and put in your very best effort. A bonus of this type of work is that when you're ready to reenter the workforce, you'll be a tested candidate for a permanent position.

You can read more about the ins and outs of developing a contract practice, including pricing, malpractice coverage, and ethical considerations, in The Complete Guide to Contract Lawyering (Niche Press 1999), written by Deborah Guyol and Deborah Arron.

Courtesy of Deborah Arron.