Temps vs. Tradition

Can a firm survive- even prosper -with constant turnover of its legal staff?

One Houston firm, Glidden Partners, is betting yes. They have opted to rely on contract attorneys even in major corporate litigation.

So far, the strategy has worked. Successful in extricating a Fortune 500 client from a class-action lawsuit over Texas natural-gas contracts, the firm used temps to do research, review and code documents.

Had first-year associates done that work, Glidden could have charged around $ 100 an hour. Instead, they billed the client $30 an hour, including a 15 percent markup for the firm. The company saved at least $1 million.

Is this any way to run a law firm?

The Glidden gambit is based on demand for lower cost litigation and a nationwide glut in the temporary attorney marketplace. Borrowing the concept of just-in-time inventory from industry, the firm hires only the attorneys it needs for the work at hand.

The contract attorneys do various tasks but don’t appear in court. So busy are they that there’s no need to overwork a file, clients note approvingly.

Keeping tabs on costs

Clients also benefit from Glidden’s informative cost accounting. The firm utilizes computer software that allows clients to monitor their bills, even down to the level of how much portions of a matter, such as a deposition or hearing, will cost. The firm further offers alternative billing–hourly, net fee and contingency–to meet client needs.

Contract Lawyers, Confidentiality and Conflicts of Interest

Both contract lawyers and hiring lawyers need to protect client confidences. If you are a hiring lawyer, ensure that contract lawyers:

  • have access only to information necessary to complete assigned projects.
  • are barred from areas where files are kept.
  • do not overhear conversations about unrelated cases.
  • do not view computer screens with confidential information.
  • have no access to discarded case materials.
  • do not remove files from the premises.

Contract lawyers should be prepared to:

  • make certain an office contains files only for the cases they are handling. (Ask for extraneous files to be removed, if necessary.)
  • include the engagement letter an assurance of the responsibility to preserve client confidences.

Avoiding conflicts of interest

Lawyers and law firms using contract lawyers should keep records of the client matter upon which each contract lawyer has worked. Before discussing an assignment, the contract lawyer should be told the names of clients, opposing party or parties, and opposing counsel. Contract lawyers should:

  • keep a record of clients served and the matters or cases.
  • ask potential hiring lawyers for the names of the client and all opposing parties and potential parties before accepting an assignment. For grounding in ethical issues surrounding contract lawyers.