Is it ethical to outsource?
Yes. Outsourcing of legal work to a freelance attorney is a growing trend to contain legal costs and to allow small firms to serve their clients as well as larger firms. ABA Opinion 08-451 states: "There is nothing unethical about a lawyer outsourcing legal and non-legal services, provided the outsourcing lawyer renders legal services to the client with the 'legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation,' as required by Rule 1.1."
Can I hire Tara Muller as a freelancer or as co-counsel?
Both. Tara Muller offers both 1) freelance work, primarily assisting with research, complex litigation, and appeals, and 2) co-counsel representation, which involves preparing and signing briefs and pleadings. In some instances, Tara Muller prepares briefs and pleadings to be signed and filed by the lawyer or law firm that hires her for that service, thus acting as a contractor to that lawyer or firm. In other instances, when more extensive assistance is necessary, Tara Muller represents the client along with the primary attorney.
How will I deliver the documents?
If on paper, the record on appeal or other pertinent material can be delivered via courier service, or by email if electronic files are available. If the files exceed email storage limits a file-sharing service such as Dropbox can be used. Briefs can be provided as either Word or .PDF documents. In a role of appellate counsel or co-counsel, Tara Muller can finalize, sign, file and serve the final documents. However, in a role of freelance attorney requiring oversight by the primary attorney, it is standard for a final edit and formatting or tables of contents and authorities to be the responsibility of the hiring attorney.
Must I advise my client?
The ethics rules are a bit unclear on this point, so Tara Muller makes it a policy to require the attorney to notify the client of her involvement. Under ABA Opinion 08-451, if confidential client information must be provided to Tara Muller in order to perform the work requested, your client must agree in advance to the sharing of that information. Thus, in theory, if you only need a research memo prepared, you likely do not have to inform your client. Nevertheless, Tara Muller requests that all clients be notified and approve of her involvement before starting a job. As for notifying the court, according to the NC Rules of Professional Conduct, Tara Muller does not need to make an appearance in the case or otherwise inform the court of her involvement unless the rules of procedure require her to be the lawyer that signs the brief or pleading.
What about confidentiality?
In a true freelance situation, Tara Muller does not form an attorney-client relationship with your client, so there is no direct attorney-client privilege regarding confidential information. However, because you are hiring Tara Muller as an agent whom you supervise, your attorney-client privilege should apply to any shared confidential information. In a co-counsel scenario, Tara Muller represents the client along with you, so the information is protected and fully privileged.
What about conflicts of interest?
Tara Muller maintains a file of all contractual engagements for freelance legal services, including the names of all the parties in addition to the client of the hiring attorney or firm. She also recognizes actual conflicts of interest involving parties if actually engaged by the lawyer of a party in a matter.
Any hidden fees?
No. Tara Muller has access to two major online research services and is located a short distance from a large law school library. She believes that the cost of legal research should be included up front in the cost agreed upon. Therefore, Tara Muller does not bill for the cost of legal research unless the particular research project is unusually extensive, in which case she will notify you in advance of providing such research. Generally, all expenses are included in the cost agreed upon before beginning the project.
What about malpractice insurance coverage?
Although Tara Muller does not form an attorney-client relationship with any clients of the attorney or firm that hires her on a freelance basis to prepare a brief or engage in another task, she does maintain professional liability insurance through Lawyers' Mutual Insurance of NC.
Do I pay, or does my client pay?
In a freelance situation, the lawyer or law firm enters into a contract for the freelance legal work and pays Tara Muller directly for the services. Except in certain co-counsel situations, she does not accept payment from the contracting attorney's client. For income tax purposes, her law firm clients provide her with a 1099 form for miscellaneous income.
How do I bill the client?
The NC Rules of Professional Conduct permit you to bill the client directly for the legal services provided by Tara Muller. Further, the fees charged to the client may exceed the amount you pay to Tara Muller, provided the total fee is reasonable under the circumstances. Rule 1.5. Tara Muller will keep accurate records of time spent and will provide you with a detailed bill for legal services on her own billing software or directly on your billing software, whichever you prefer. Some billing software companies charge a fee for additional users, which Tara Muller sometimes includes in her costs depending on the nature and extent of the freelance project. When a project is limited in duration and scope, most attorneys find it relatively simple to transfer Tara Muller’s timesheet to their own billing software and pass it on to the client.