How Law Firms Are Leveraging Per Diem Attorneys to Increase Efficiency and Elevate Client Outcomes

A growing number of law firms are incorporating per diem attorneys into their legal strategies to increase efficiency, alleviate scheduling conflicts and elevate client outcomes. Per diem attorneys, also known as freelance attorneys, provide an array of specialized services that range from on-demand court appearance coverage to flexible deposition representation and specialized expertise. Read on to learn how to leverage the services of these valuable allies to streamline operations and deliver exceptional client outcomes.

Per diem attorneys are hired on a temporary basis to perform legal work such as court appearances, depositions and legal research. They are typically used by law firms that have a high volume of cases and need additional support, as well as solo practitioners who require assistance with specific aspects of their caseloads. They are a cost-effective alternative to hiring full-time associates and are often retained for one particular matter, such as a trial or a hearing.

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct require that a firm seeking to hire a per diem attorney notify the client of the proposed relationship and obtain the client’s consent. The extent to which the hiring lawyer must do so depends on several factors, including whether the contract lawyer is expected to be privy to confidential client confidences and the degree of involvement in the pending matter (e.g., status conferences or arguments on specific motions).

When the retaining law firm knows, or reasonably should know, that the court appearance will involve simple scheduling matters and the sharing of client confidences is minimal, the hiring lawyer need not obtain the required consent from the client. In contrast, when the hiring lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the court appearance will involve substantive and strategically significant issues or that the per diem lawyer is likely to have a greater level of independence and responsibility than the prevailing record counsel, the retaining law firm ordinarily must obtain the required consent.

Moreover, it is not clear how the Model Rules should apply to situations in which the hiring law firm retains an hourly per diem attorney and contracts to have them perform legal work on the underlying case on an ongoing basis after the date for which they are hired. Generally, such work would include the preparation of memoranda and/or the drafting of legal documents, and the hiring law firm must remain sole “attorney of record” or, at minimum, equal co-counsel for the case.

In these circumstances, obtaining the needed consent might be difficult or even impossible. Thankfully, there is an innovative and technologically advanced solution to this problem: AppearMe. This New York-based startup has created an automated platform that allows lawyers to find a per diem attorney for a court hearing or deposition within minutes of posting the job offer. The platform makes use of a fast-growing community of thousands of New York per diem attorneys who have registered with it and are eager to respond to the latest job announcements. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find a New York per diem lawyer who can cover an appearance just 10 minutes before a scheduled court hearing.