The top 6 questions I get about being a freelance lawyer

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When I meet new people who are lawyers, they tend to have a lot of questions about my job. Around here, freelance lawyers are still sufficiently rare that I’m usually the first one they’ve met.

These are the six questions I get most frequently.

1. Do you have your own legal database subscriptions?

This is probably the most common question, and the answer is yes! It’s my biggest expense and I couldn’t do without it. I have a comprehensive subscription (including international) with LexisNexis Quicklaw, plus several subscriptions to CLEBC publications.

I also use a lot of free resources, like the Courthouse Library and CanLII (which I use every single day).

2. How do you get clients?

Mostly through word-of-mouth. When I first started out, I e-mailed every lawyer I knew, asking them for work. At the time, I had been litigating for 7 years, so I had a decent network. I started getting files here and there, and it just grew.

Also, at the very beginning, I did some cold calls (cold e-mails, actually). I looked for firms that were advertising for litigation associate positions and sent them my info, suggesting I might be able to assist while they were in the process of hiring. On one occasion, it actually worked! I found a fantastic client who remains a client today. But I’ve never tried it since.

I also have a website (obviously) and use LinkedIn, but potential clients don’t seem to find me that way. That’s where people go to check me out once they’ve already heard about me.

Finally, once in a blue moon, someone finds me through the list of research lawyers on the Courthouse Library’s website.

3. Who are your clients?

All sorts of different lawyers. Mostly those who work in small firms or in-house legal departments. Plus a few sole practitioners.

4. Is it difficult to focus when you work from home?

Not really. No more difficult than when I worked in an office. In fact, I like the quiet atmosphere of working from home.

But results may vary for others. I know many people that need the hum of an office to work at peak productivity.

5. How much do you work?

This depends. When I first started out, I worked a lot. A lot, a lot. More than I had ever worked as an associate at a big firm. There were days that I’d wake up and go straight to my office at 6am, not leaving until bedtime. My husband would come home after a day at work, and there I’d be, still typing away in my pyjamas. This could go on for days. It was difficult, but exciting and worth it. I was just starting out and trying to prove myself.

These days, the schedule looks a little different. I have a toddler, so I generally keep to normal working hours (Monday to Friday, 9 to 5). But I haven’t been able to stick to that entirely. I usually need to work some early mornings, some evenings, and at least a couple of hours on the weekend. There’s always something to do, including keeping on top of accounting, taxes, and sales tax remittances. Someday it may be a true 9 to 5 job, but I’m not there yet.

6. Is it lonely?

It can be. I have a tendency, when it gets busy, to just put my head down and work. Particularly when I first started out, days would go by without seeing anyone but my husband.

These days, I’m a little more balanced. Having a kid has helped. I’ve also become deliberate about scheduling lunches and coffees with my clients and other lawyers. I know that if I want to keep enjoying this job, I need to maintain my sense of connection with the legal community.

Overall, I feel incredibly grateful to have this job. I find it really, truly enjoyable. I don’t get that sinking feeling in my stomach on Sunday nights. I look forward to sitting at my desk each morning. I still get a little thrill every time I get a new assignment. I feel lucky that I have clients who are willing to entrust their important legal work to me.

Do you have questions about what it’s like to be a freelance research lawyer? Comment below and I’ll try to answer as best as I can!