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Contract Attorney: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Contract attorneys require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Contract attorneys or freelance attorneys are those who do not work at a law firm on a permanent basis. Other than this distinction, contract attorneys have earned the same legal degree, passed the required bar exams, and obtained the same licensing as their firm-based counterparts.

Essential Information

A contract attorney is a lawyer who is licensed to practice law, but instead of working for a firm on a permanent basis, they contract their services out to law firms or state governments. Contract attorneys might find work through temp agencies or networking. To become contract lawyers, candidates must first complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor; following that, they must pass the bar examination to be licensed with the state.

Required Education Juris Doctor
Licensure/Certification Admittance to the American Bar Association for state licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for all lawyers*
Average Annual Salary (2015) $136,260 for all lawyers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Contract Attorney Job Description

An attorney interacts with citizens to help them navigate legal matters. Attorneys work to represent parties in civil or criminal cases, or counsel clients on legal matters. What differentiates a contract attorney is their lack of a permanent position in a law firm. A contract attorney may still be involved in the same types of cases as permanent members of law firms, including elder, bankruptcy, environmental or contracts law proceedings. However, contract attorneys are only commissioned and paid on a case-by-case basis. For this reason, they are sometimes also called freelance attorneys.

Contract Attorney Duties

Contract attorneys may be called upon to perform the necessary tasks for any case that they take on. These are the same tasks that any other lawyer would perform, and include researching, preparing legal documents and advising clients. Depending on how involved a particular case is, a contract attorney could work on it for a few days or a few months. Because contract attorneys usually specialize in a particular area of law, they may be called upon to work cases within their specialty in order to ensure that they are well-equipped to handle any duties that may arise.

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Contract Attorney Requirements

A contract attorney must follow the same educational path as any other attorney. In total, it takes about seven years after high school to become an attorney. Students first obtain a bachelor's degree in the field of their choice. Even though this undergraduate degree does not have to be in a specific field, it should include classes that encourage proficiency in the skills that lawyers use every day, such as researching and speaking. Once a bachelor's degree is obtained, the student can take the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, and apply for law school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), the LSAT is required by all law schools that are approved by the American Bar Association.

After successful completion of law school, students have to pass a bar exam in order to be licensed in the state in which they plan to practice law. A contract attorney who has been admitted to a state's bar can then begin to take contract assignments.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for attorneys in general were expected to increase by 6% from 2014-2024. Although salaries specifically for contract attorneys aren't published by the BLS, an average annual wage of $136,260 for attorneys in general was reported in 2015.

Contract lawyers practice law just as any lawyer does, but without being associated with a particular firm. They are required to obtain a law degree and pass bar examinations. These professionals are likely to earn a typical lawyer's salary if they practice full-time, despite the contract nature of their career.

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