• Finance, Advice

A freelancer’s guide to hiring a lawyer

This post is from a member of Freelancers Guild™, a network of lawyers committed to helping freelancers. Need help dealing with a legal issue? Download the Freelancers Union app!

Hiring a lawyer might feel like a complicated, expensive and intimidating task, especially if you’re a freelancer doing almost everything on your own. Most people don’t know where to start, how to choose the right person, or what it will cost.

Too many freelancers avoid this mystery by not hiring a lawyer even when they need one. But if you want your business to thrive, you can’t make that mistake.

I wrote this post to help you understand the process of hiring a lawyer and how Freelancers Union can make it easier to find the right person for you.

How Can a Lawyer Help Your Freelance Work?

Before you can pick the right lawyer, it helps to understand exactly why you want to hire one in the first place. There are hundreds of different legal specialties but in general, lawyers can help freelancers in three main ways:

  1. Prevent problems by helping you do things like understand and negotiate contracts
  2. Resolve problems by helping you recover unpaid fees or represent you in court.
  3. Improve your financial position by helping you protect your income or your intellectual property

When Should You Hire a Lawyer?

There are two times a freelancer should consider hiring an lawyer: good times and bad times.

If you’re starting a new business, negotiating a contract with a new client or collaboration partner, or buying a major piece of equipment or real estate, it makes sense to reach out to a lawyer to make sure you avoid any potential problems. If you haven’t been paid by a client, or you need someone to represent you in court, you need to hire a lawyer to help you navigate and resolve as many problems as they can.

When Should You Not Hire a Lawyer?

The two main considerations in not getting legal representation are cost and potential outcomes. If you have a client who owes you $1,000, but the legal fees are going to be $2,000, it might not be worth it to bring in that particular lawyer.

Also, if your lawyer informs you in the initial consultation (see below) that you have limited options with your case, then it might not make sense to invest time, money and emotional energy into a futile project.

How Should You Pick Your Lawyer?

Building a working relationship with a lawyer is an important aspect of your business, but every lawyer is different in what they practice and how they handle their clients, so the following are basic to finding the right person:

  1. Find the lawyer with the right specialization. You wouldn’t hire a heart surgeon for your plastic surgery even though they’re both doctors, so don’t hire a criminal lawyer to write your contracts. Different lawyers have different skills.
  2. Research the background of any lawyer you are considering with their bar association and on social media to make sure they’re license is up to date and they don’t have any disciplinary issues in their record. There is a link below in the reference section that you can use to get to the New York State Bar Association
  3. Explain your situation in the initial call and ask questions about how they would handle your case. They can’t go over everything in a short conversation, but you should get an idea if they understand what you need. There are links at the end of this article with potential questions you can ask.
  4. Understand the nature of the potential relationship between you and the lawyer. How would they bill you? What is the scope of their work? What’s the potential time frame? The more you know going in, the more comfortable you’ll be.
  5. Talk to more than one because it might not make sense to sign on with the first person you talk to.

What Should You Expect When You Hire an Attorney?

Different attorneys have different methods of securing clients, but while the details might be different, there are some general things you should look for:

  1. Ask if they charge for the initial consultation. In my practice and many others the first discussion is free, but you don’t want to get surprised with a bill at this stage.
  2. Be prepared to discuss the background of your situation, what you’d like to achieve and any emails, contracts or other relevant information you have available to give the lawyer if you decide to hire them.
  3. Make sure you understand not just the potential fee but what they plan to do on your behalf.
  4. Try to get an engagement letter from them so you have the details of your potential relationship in writing.

How Much Do Lawyers Cost and How Do They Get Paid?

The bad news is that there is no standard rate or cap on legal fees in New York. The costs can go from almost free (pro bono) to several hundred dollars per hour.

The good news is that there are several different ways lawyers get paid, so just because you need a lawyer doesn’t mean you have to sell all your possessions.

There are four main ways lawyers charge for their time:

  1. Hourly Rates are paid based on the time the lawyer work on your behalf. So if your contract takes three hours to review and they charge $200 per hour, you pay $600.
  2. Flat Fees are paid based on the work done and not the time spent doing the work. So if the flat rate for a contract is $500, then you pay that if it takes your lawyer 2 hours or 20 hours to deal with the contract.
  3. Retainers are similar to hourly rates. The difference is that the fees are paid up front so you know your lawyer is there for you as soon as you pick up the phone.
  4. Contingency Fees are based on the amount of money the lawyer gets you. So if you win $10,000 in unpaid fees from your client and your lawyer gets 30%, then you are entitled to $7,000 and your lawyer gets the other $3,000

The Freelancers Union App

While finding a lawyer might have been tedious in the past, Freelancers Union has a special offer to help our members connect to the right people. Our new Freelancers Union app can connect you to over twenty five pre-screened lawyers who specialize with freelance clients and who work with a variety of legal specialties including corporate formation, contract review and fee recovery. The app is free and available now.

Freelancers need lawyers to make the most of their business. While it takes time to find the right person, having the right one can be the difference between success and failure in your business goals. Freelancers Union is taking steps to make the process easier. Hopefully this short guide will also make it less mysterious.

Gamal is one of the founding members of the Freelancers Guild. His twenty year career has focused on artists and freelancers. His areas of expertise include contract drafting and analysis, copyright and trademark registration, corporate formation, and employment contracts. He’s done work for individual freelancers and companies as large as Marvel Entertainment.