How Much Does a Contract Attorney Cost?


How much does a contract attorney cost?

Answer: It depends.


We get this question a lot at Hire an Esquire—and the answer is very lawyerly: It depends.

So, we’re sharing our many years of experience (and platform data) on what impacts the cost of a contract attorney as well as current market rates for major practice areas.

Top 4 Factors Influencing Cost

The hourly rate for the same role can vary significantly based on:

  1. Location, Location, Location. The geographical area and whether the attorney can work remotely is the factor we see most universally impacting hourly rates. Not surprisingly, the hourly rate of a contract lawyer with major metro Biglaw experience who has moved to a lower cost market is often 10-30% less than that of peers who stayed in the big city (Austin is still cheaper than New York but more expensive than Kansas City). Demand for the role (see below) also impacts the discount.

    Attorneys in the same market will generally be willing to accept an hourly rate of ~10% less if they can work remotely.  Many attorneys find the precious time saved on commuting combined with the money saved on transportation, lunch, and dry cleaning more than make up the difference.

  2. Demand. Rates for roles—particularly niche specialties—can vary slightly to dramatically based on emerging trends, legal issues, and major litigations underway. We’ve seen Japanese language doc review rates oscillate by 50% as multiple major litigations kept the limited amount of reviewers ramped up and then settled. More recently, rates for Data Privacy attorneys and Blockchain attorneys ramped dramatically in the spring to summer of 2018 as the GDPR deadline approached and Blockchain blew up in a big way.

  3. Commitment. Attorneys will generally demand higher rates for projects that are more sporadic and/or only offer limited hours weekly. We also see attorneys willing to accept lower hourly rates for consistent, long-term work with significant weekly hours.

  4. Value of the Opportunity. With less job security and more economic fluctuations, we see attorneys placing a higher value on opportunities that will allow them to develop new practice area expertise or build their experience and connection in a new environment. With this, we see lawyers with Biglaw backgrounds demanding more to stay in similar roles at traditional large law firms and lawyers with the same background willing to take significant pay cuts and swap a stable role for a contract role when there’s the opportunity to develop additional practice expertise or to enter the in-house market whether at a Fortune 500 or High Growth company.

Top 3 Hiring Trends

  1. Diversifying Career Options. As noted above, we see attorneys actively looking to make a career transition or “broadening” via gaining experience in a new work environment or practice area. They are often willing to leave a stable, permanent job for a contract role and/ or accept lower hourly rates for this opportunity.

  2. Geographic Arbitrage. We see more law practices actively seeking out remote attorneys in lower cost markets—as well as lawyers from major coastal cities seeking opportunities in (often trendy) lower cost markets. Side note: any time we have an Austin job, we are flooded with BigLaw applicants from San Francisco, D.C., and New York.

  3. Tight Market. The combination of a hot economy, a decade of firms cutting back their associate classes, and many attorneys finding opportunities outside the legal market during the ‘08 downturn has increased the competition for talent. The few attorneys with associate-level training are in high demand from law firms and corporate legal departments just as they are from non-legal employers. Companies (including the biggest tech companies with legendary perks) are luring lawyers of all backgrounds into legal, legal adjacent roles, and non-legal roles.

Understanding the factors that impact contract attorney rates will arm you for savvy negotiations and more successful job postings.  

Looking for rate ranges for a specific level of experience and practice area? Check out this guide created from our own platform job data.

Happy Hiring!