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Contract attorneys hire out their legal skills to law firms, organizations, and government agencies for specific assignments or particular types of legal work. There are many types of contract attorney jobs available in a variety of fields. Many private attorneys with their own practice often use contract work as a base from which to build their practice or have a dependable source of income. Some boutique specialty law firms may contract to do certain tasks for other law firms, such as their appeals or litigation.
Public defender offices are a major source of contract attorney jobs. For instance in the US, every state is constitutionally mandated to provide legal representation in criminal cases to those who cannot afford an attorney. Most states have established public defender offices statewide to do this work. The caseloads, however, particularly in more populous areas, can be tremendous. Many public defender offices contract out this work to private attorneys, resulting in savings in manpower, office space, and insurance.
In the area of appeals, there are also many contract attorney jobs. The rules of procedure and evidence for appeals are different that those for trials. Government agencies and law firms often contract out appeals to private attorneys and law firms that make this work their specialty. There are some firms and some lawyers that do only appeals, and much of their work is done on a contract or referral basis.
There are enough different contract attorney jobs that many solo practitioners may build their practice around such work. Contract jobs are attractive because they offer more flexibility in terms of time, scheduling, and income. Many attorneys who decide to work only part-time can do so on the basis of contract jobs. For an attorney just starting out, contract work can be very important to getting established. It can provide a consistent base for meeting expenses like overhead or clerical support.
Many law firms or private attorneys may do work that is primarily concerned with legal drafting and advice for their clients. They may contract out cases that could involve litigation if the client needs those services. Government agencies generally have their own legal staff to analyze statutes and advise the agency on the law. Sometimes, however, an agency can require the services of litigation attorneys in addition to it own resources. Government entities also use contract attorneys for positions like that of administrative law judge, wherein a lawyer is paid to act as a hearing officer in contested agency actions.