Due to dramatic shifts in the legal industry, legal service providers are increasingly hiring freelancers to address staffing challenges and build a more flexible workforce.
Freelance paralegals function as their own boss, working as independent contractors, providing paralegal services for a variety of clients. To be successful, they must have a solid understanding of how to run a business and the paperwork involved — beginning with the freelance paralegal agreement.
The freelance paralegal agreement
Every freelance paralegal (as well as those they contract with) needs a comprehensive work agreement that will protect everyone’s interests and lay out the terms of the contract. If trouble occurs down the road, the agreement can be relied upon to resolve any disputes.
Here are some key elements that should be included in every freelance paralegal’s work agreement:
#1: Job description
The scope and extent of the project should be fully explained. Rather than using a single word or phrase, include all aspects of the project. Make sure to include important details such as case name, client, contact information, and all firm deadlines.
Freelance paralegals typically provide their services on an as-needed basis, which could mean working for a day or two up to weeks or months.
The agreement should specify when it becomes effective and when it ends, along with any intermediate deadlines that will occur during the project’s duration.
#3: Compensation structure
Project fees might range from an hourly rate, with or without a cap, to a flat fee for the entire project. Compensation structure is typically governed by the type of project being completed and how the contracting attorney is billing the client for the work.
A freelance paralegal agreement should specify when an invoice will be produced and what its terms will be (net 15, net 30, etc.). It is also important to explain what forms of payment will be accepted and whether penalties will be applied for late payments, and if so, what those penalties will be.
#5: Employment relationship
In the case of a freelance paralegal, this will usually be an independent contractor relationship. To preserve independent contract status, the agreement will need to cover payment of the applicable taxes and business-related expenses, along with the contractor’s social security or tax ID number.
#6: Ethical obligations
The agreement must ensure that the attorney-client privilege will be preserved, since both the hiring attorney and the freelance paralegal have professional obligations related to confidentiality. Language stating that the paralegal will not engage in the unauthorized practice of law and that the hiring attorney will provide the paralegal with adequate supervision should also be included.
#7: Conflict checking
The parties to the agreement need to be aware that the freelance paralegal likely works on projects for multiple clients. If so, it is important that a reliable and thorough conflict checking process be utilized before work is begun.
#8: Professional liability concerns
The freelance paralegal should verify that the person or entity hiring them has current and sufficient lawyers professional liability (LPL) insurance to cover the project being undertaken, should a malpractice issue arise.
#9: Work product ownership
The hiring attorney retains ultimate responsibility for the case file and will typically own the final rights to the product or service. However, a statement of ownership should be included for clarification.
Should either of the parties become dissatisfied with the arrangement, the agreement should explicitly state what will occur at this point.
All terms in a freelance paralegal agreement should be stated in clear and concise language, with headings and subheadings to make the information easier to read and understand. When the parties are in mutual agreement regarding the terms of the contract, they must sign and date the document. It then becomes legally binding and can be used to provide proof of a freelance paralegal’s independent contractor status.
However you protect yourself legally when creating a paralegal agreement, keep in mind that the terms must work well for both parties in order to avoid conflict down the road.