FYI: Hiring a Freelancer or Consultant

As the cliche goes, time is money. Even technically adroit attorneys may find that their time is better spent focused on their cases rather than trying to build a new web page, set up a mail server, or implement a data backup solution. Thankfully, there's a large pool of talented and affordable freelancers and consultants who are available to address virtually any technology need your firm may have. Finding these freelancers and determining how much to pay them, however, can be a daunting tasking. Here are some tips and resources to help guide you in hiring a freelancer or consultant to address your technology needs:

  • Know where to look. It may seem obvious, but the first obstacle to hiring the right freelancer or consultant is knowing where to look. While the phonebook or a simple Google search may eventually lead you to the right person, there are better and more efficient avenues you can pursue. First and foremost, look to your peers: fellow attorneys, especially those with similar firm sizes of practice areas, may be able to direct you to (or away from) to someone they have worked with in the past. Not only does this give you some insight into the quality of the consultant's work, it also assures you that they have at least some understanding of the special technological needs facing lawyers. Indeed, there are many consultants who specialize only in legal technology. If you aren't sure where to find a fellow attorney with experience hiring consultants, try attending networking events in your area, joining bar association committees, or using discussion lists and social networks like LawTech, SoloSez, or LawLink.

    No luck with your peers? Try calling your state and local bar association: many bar association's have practice management advisors on staff that can either provide you with a referral to a legal technology consultant in the area, or they may be able to point you to other attorneys who have experience hiring a consultant. If there is a specific software package you use (or are thinking about using), try contacting the vendor for a referral to a consultant in your area. While the vendor is likely to refer you to a consultant who is certified with their products, many of the consultants are independent and actually hold multiple certifications or are otherwise familiar with a variety of legal technology solutions.

    Finally, there are also a number of web sites that allow business owners to post their projects and solicit bids from experienced freelancers and consultants. These sites, like Guru.com or oDesk, typically include thorough rating systems for both the hiring company and the consultant, providing some measure of reliability.

  • Meet before hiring. As with any working relationship, you'll want to make sure you're comfortable with the consultant or freelancer before hiring them to handle your technology needs. Meet with the consultant face to face if possible. They should demonstrate an understanding of your business and your specific technology needs. They should be knowledgeable about the field, but shouldn't overwhelm you with tech jargon. A good consultant or freelancer will listen to your situation and your needs before offering a solution. Here are some specific topics you should consider asking about:

    • Do they consult/freelance full time? Some consultants and freelancers only work on the weekends or evenings while holding down a regular 9 to 5 day job. This may mean lower rates, but it also means being at the whim of their regular work schedule.

    • How large is the consultant's practice? A solo consultant may be able to offer you more personal attention, while a larger organization likely has a broader base of experience and more consistent availability.

    • Are they affiliated with particular vendors? Many consultants -- particularly those dedicated to legal technology -- work directly with various vendors to receive certification and special training on the software or hardware law firms need. This can be a major benefit in selecting a consultant, but be wary of consultants that are thinly-veiled sales representatives.

    • Do they specialize in legal technology? A general technology consultant may be just fine for many of a law firm's more simple technology needs, such as setting up a network or upgrading a computer, but consultants specializing in legal technology are more likely to understand the full breadth of your firm's needs and are more likely to have specific experience that can improve your firm's workflow.

    See also: Inc.com's Technology - Ten Questions You Have to Ask Before Hiring a Computer Consultant, and Independent Computer Consultant Association: 10 Tips for Hiring a Computer Consultant.

  • Request and check references. A good computer consultant or freelancer should be willing to provide you with a list of some of their recent clients and be happy to have you contact them directly. Use the references to verify not just the quality of the consultants work, but also their efficiency and reliability.

  • Think about the future. If you're looking for a consultant to implement a complex new computer or software system, you're going to need help beyond the initial set up. Be sure you know what sort of future maintenance and support is available (and how much it will cost), and get an idea of how future upgrades to the hardware or software would be handled.

  • Get trained. New computer and software systems are useless if you don't know how to use them (and use them well). Your consultant should either be able to offer you training on your new system or he or she should be able to refer you to an appropriate training venue. Thorough training is a great way to maximize your technology investment.

  • Get it in writing. When you finally hire a consultant or freelancer, make sure you're getting everything in writing: the price quoted for the current project, the price of any overage hours, a clear list of the work that will be accomplished, and a timeline for completion. The agreement should clearly spell out your responsibilities in terms of payment and supplying any necessary information, and it should clearly spell out the consultants responsibilities in terms of what will be supplied, when, and for how much money. Depending on the code of professional responsibility in effect in your jurisdiction, you may also need to include language regarding confidentiality and the sensitivity of the client data you have been charged with safeguarding. Getting everything in writing before you get the actual technical work underway will help prevent major headaches for both you and the person you're hiring.

Have an experience or useful article on hiring a consultant or freelancer that you'd like to share with us? Send us an e-mail at ltrc@abanet.org.

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