Ethical Implications of Hiring a Freelance Attorney

By: Meghan Dohoney, Freelance Attorney

Ethical rules vary by state but here are some general considerations:

Confidentiality: The duty of confidentiality extends to a freelance attorney working on a client’s matter. Confidential information can be disclosed to a freelance attorney as long as the freelance attorney agrees to keep the client’s information confidential.

Billing the Client for a Freelance Attorney’s Time: This varies from state to state, but in many states a freelance attorney’s fees may be absorbed by the firm, passed through to the client as a cost, or billed as legal fees. In California and many other states if the freelancer’s fees are billed as legal fees, it is permissible to add a surcharge when billing the client.

Duty to Avoid Conflicts: The duty to avoid conflicts is an important consideration because freelance attorneys may work for multiple firms and will have more possibility for conflicts of interest. Before engaging a freelance attorney, always ask the freelance attorney to perform a conflict check. Hiring attorneys should limit the freelance attorney’s exposure to the specific case they are working on.

Duty to Act Competently: The duty of competence ultimately resides with each attorney. A freelance attorney may be used if she is reasonably believed to be competent in that practice area. The hiring attorney retains the duty to supervise and ultimately approve of the freelance attorney’s work.



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