Differences between A Freelance Commercial Lawyer And A Sole Practitioner

As the legal industry is changing, new ways to practice all aspects of the law are emerging, including the option of practising as a freelance commercial lawyer. Though some business owners still believe in the traditional way of practising business law, the massive influence of the internet is already promoting the freelancing service even in the law industry. 

According to reports, most young chaps in the business world patronize freelance best commercial lawyers. However, since the pandemic, the general business format has changed for good. The business world is now flexible. Hence, freelance commercial lawyers are winning the bout. 

While freelance commercial lawyers are becoming more popular across the globe, confusion still exists over what a freelance commercial lawyer is and does. The most common misconception we see? People equate freelance commercial lawyers with “cheaper versions” of sole practitioners. This misconception has arisen partly from some solo commercial lawyers offering their legal services to the public on freelance platforms (alongside photographers, graphic designers, etc.) at highly discounted rates, creating confusion in the field of freelance commercial lawyers.  

We have summarized below the three differences between freelance commercial lawyers and sole practitioners. This article is dedicated to exposing you to the difference so that you will have the proper knowledge to distinguish between the two without mincing choices. 

Significant Differences Between Freelance Commercial Lawyers And Sole Practitioners

1. The Client

The clientele is the most crucial distinction between a sole practitioner and a freelance commercial lawyer.

Freelancers only work for other commercial lawyers, law firms, or in-house legal departments (usually large corporations), unlike sole practitioners, whom the general public doesn’t like to retain. Also, the sole practitioners do not have the grounds to provide legal advice directly to non-lawyers or what they refer to as “end-clients”. Finally, while technically, they are all “sole practitioners” with their respective law communities (our governing bodies), this is due to the non-appearance of the ‘freelance commercial lawyers’ category on their annual reports, and “sole practitioner” seem to be always available to how they practice business law.

So, those commercial lawyers who offer their legal services on general freelance marketplace websites are usually sole practitioners looking for work from end clients (although not all). They often provide their services at a lower or discounted rate. They use freelance platforms simply as another way to generate business from the public. Freelance commercial lawyers do not look for work from the general public.

It is understandable why sole practitioners may be confused with freelance commercial lawyers. In other industries (where freelancing or the “gig” economy has been embraced), freelancers are generally self-employed individuals, such as graphic designers or writers, who work for several clients on a project basis, as opposed to just one company. Like most lawyers (except for in-house counsel), sole practitioners work for several end clients instead of just one.  However, freelance commercial lawyers “gig” for several law firms and lawyers, as opposed to practising as an associate or partner of one lawyer, law firm, or company. The difference is, as noted above that freelance commercial lawyers work for other lawyers rather than end clients.

2. The Nature of the Work 

A sole practitioner will (generally) see the file through from beginning to end (i.e. from drafting the statement of claim to conducting the trial), unlike a freelance commercial lawyer who may be called into work on only one aspect of the file (i.e. to provide high-level strategic advice, draft a pleading, review one contract, appear for one court appearance, etc.)

This distinction affects the length or duration of the work. For example, in civil litigation, files can last for years. A sole practitioner’s litigation files can be dormant for months and then blow up at a moment’s notice. Instead of juggling 100 files that may require attention at any moment, freelance commercial lawyers focus on one or two assignments or projects at a time with clear beginnings and ends. That means lawyer and law firm clients get 100% (or close to it) of our attention on their work projects. Lawyer clients are juggling the 100 files, and we assist when they catch on fire. 

Also, lawyer clients consistently give us exciting and challenging legal work. The instructions are prominent and well thought out. Having a commercial lawyer as a client means less emotional support and psychological hand-holding than sole practitioners may have to provide to their end clients.  Some of the lawyer clients have told us that they prefer providing emotional support and hand-holding and are not keen on the actual law. That is how, as freelance commercial lawyers, we can complement a solo practitioner’s or law firm lawyer’s practice. Clients outsource the work they do not like to us so that they can focus on their work. 

Differences between A Freelance Commercial Lawyer And A Sole Practitioner

3. Overhead and Trust Accounts

Most sole practitioners have an office, a legal assistant or law clerk, office equipment and furniture, etc. Freelance commercial lawyers have very little overhead. We can work from anywhere, although most of us work from home and often have paperless ‘offices’.  There are commercial lawyers and law firm clients everywhere, and you can communicate with them over Skype, phone, email, etc.

While some sole practitioners may also work from home and have paperless offices, one thing a sole practitioner does have (that freelancers do not) is a trust account. Solo practitioners will often take monetary retainers from their end clients, which must be kept in a trust account. Freelancers usually only bill our lawyer and law firm clients once the work is complete, eliminating the need for a trust account.

In Conclusion

It is never a bad idea to commit your business to the hands of freelance commercial lawyers. It’s all for the profits. While sole practitioners and freelance commercial lawyers have much in common, we practice law differently. Depending on their personality, a commercial lawyer may suit one type of practice more than a sole practitioner. Based on research, most business owners prefer the freelance way of life!