In an economic downturn, the role of the contract attorney, or an attorney without a permanent relationship with law firms, has taken center stage as an effective means for controlling costs in litigation. In addition, law firms may hire contract attorneys due to a conflict of interest in certain cases. Employing contract attorneys typically involves avoiding the expense of using law-firm associates or of counsel, billed out at going firm rates, in favor of contracting with individual, licensed attorneys to perform tasks only for a particular client matter. These tasks may include drafting legal memoranda, performing legal research, or—most commonly—providing document-review-and-production services.
Litigators and their clients frequently hire contract attorneys in circumstances where there is a need to respond quickly and effectively to discovery issues or motions to compel. In light of the time crunches under which the hiring of contract attorneys often arises, it is critical for attorneys to understand in advance the ethical considerations that apply to work performed by contract attorneys.