I recently became aware of a relatively new blog called My Attorney Blog. It's written by a contract attorney in Washington, D.C., and it provides an on-the-ground view of life as a contract attorney. As one post on the blog points out, there aren't many blogs written by contract attorneys for contract attorneys, so this is a nice resource on the subject. For those unfamiliar with the term "contract attorney," it means a lawyer who is hired on a per-project basis. When the project is done, the lawyer does not stay with the firm. In essence, it is temp work.
On the one hand, this might sound like not very attractive work, and it might not be your cup of tea. The work stream is unpredictable (see this post), and the work is not always terribly glamorous (see here). And a commonly asked (and unfair) question is, "why don't you get a real job?" (see here) So why might someone consider a career as a contract attorney--either as a stop-gap option, or as a more strategic career choice?
The value of the stop-gap option is pretty easy to figure out. Jobs are scarce, and food and rent cost money. But contract attorney work also can be a good strategic move, as well as a good move from a work-life balance point of view. You have the option (assuming you have the money) to say no to an unattractive project. If you want experience in a particular area of the law that uses contract attorneys on a regular basis--such as large-scale litigation--then contract attorney work is a way to gain such experience. Also, sometimes contract attorneys get hired permanently by the firms or companies that use them on a temp basis; I have friends who have successfully gone that route.
I also think that working as a contract attorney can be a way to break into an unfamiliar market. What if you recently graduated from a regional law school and want to move to an entirely different area of the country, but have few or no contacts there? Contract attorney work can enable you to make the move. You can pay the bills, get situated in your new location, and try to make some contacts. It might not be easy, but it is virtually impossible to make contacts when you are located thousands of miles away. It takes more than a little courage to make that sort of leap, and there is no guarantee of success--but if you don't make the leap, then failure is guaranteed.
I have added My Attorney Blog to my blogroll and recommend it as a good source of anecdotal insight into the contract attorney world.