What is a Contract Attorney?

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  • Written By: Charity Delich
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2018
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A contract attorney is a lawyer who has been hired to work on a project or case on a freelance basis. Most contract attorneys are hired by large law firms or legal staffing companies, although an attorney with a specific skill set may also be hired to provide services to smaller firms, government agencies, and other entities on an as-needed basis. They are generally hired as independent contractors, and they typically do not receive benefits through the company.

Document review projects are one key area in which a contract attorney is used in the legal industry. These projects usually surface during large civil litigation cases or government subpoenas. In general, document reviews involve massive quantities of paper and electronic documents, emails, and other materials. Each one of these documents may require an attorney’s review and analysis.

During a document review, a contract attorney usually evaluates each document to determine whether it is relevant or material to the case at hand. The attorney may also flag certain types of documents that require special handling, such as those that contain a client’s confidential and trade secret information. In addition, a contract attorney may assess which documents do not need to be produced for the other side to see because they are protected under the attorney-client privilege or the work product privilege.


A contract attorney can perform a range of other functions in addition to document review. Some attorneys provide services to law firms or organizations that have overflow work at a particular time of the year or that need help temporarily when a large project comes up or a regular employee is out of the office. In this role, the attorney may conduct legal research, write legal briefs, and even represent clients in court. They may also draft legal documents, such as contracts or settlement agreements. Other tasks may include conducting compliance reviews, preparing annual reports, and migrating contract information into new databases.

Government agencies sometimes also hire contract attorneys. This is particularly common with overstaffed or smaller public defender and prosecutor offices. In this capacity, a contract attorney may represent – or prosecute – a criminal defendant.

A contract attorney is ordinarily self-employed and essentially runs his or her own business. In general, these attorneys do not receive health care, retirement, life insurance, or paid time off from the firms or agencies that they contract with. Depending on the work involved, they may also be responsible for providing their own equipment and materials for a job.



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