The issue of allowing an attorney or paralegal take side jobs or other legal work not associated with your law firm can be a little thorny. Although this can create ethical issues, such as conflicts which could disqualify your firm, I will leave that argument for another day. I would like to focus on the practical aspects of the process for a moment.
Back in the day when I ran a traditional, brick and mortar, law firm, in which lawyers and paralegals were employees, I allowed this practice. I would not allow it now, based upon my experience, with the possible exception of a lawyer feeling the need to help out a family member or pro bono work, gratis. I would not allow a paralegal to do it at all because in this situation they are directly involving me. The lawyer is getting paid for his time by the firm, and the firm is not getting compensated. It is a bad business decision to allow this to happen. The firm's work often suffered, and then the other attorneys and staff feel put out when there was a reward to the attorney for the extra work in which the other lawyers and staff were not allowed to share. That is, after all, the entire purpose of a traditional law firm. All for one and one for all. It is not all for one until some big personal injury case or real estate closing comes along. If the work is important enough to command the resources of the law firm, then the case or project needs to belong to the law firm. It is that simple.
However, this issue comes up in terms of my non-traditional practice of law, and I support such work divisions with some caveats.
In the non-traditional world, or virtual law firm environment, it is called collaboration in which attorneys and paralegals collaborate on a specific piece of work or litigation. Sometimes they are regularly associated, but they are not a law firm. All for one and one for all only comes together in terms of a particular case, litigation, representation or a piece of legal work. It also ends there -- by mutual agreement.
I have collaborated in the legal work I have done with a great deal of success and also with some degree of regret as well. I can say that in terms of any regret, the relationship does not have to continue passed the matter at hand, where the situation is a lot more sticky in a traditional law office environment.
Collaboration works in this environment better because everyone is bootstrapping. There is a lot that a virtual or solo lawyer can do by himself, but sometimes everyone needs a little external help.
At its best, collaboration works extraordinarily well when everyone is dedicated to the transaction at hand, and they see it as their ability to support themselves. In this age of tech, we no longer need to be together in a building or a formal relationship to work in unison to solve a problem for someone or some company or some organization in some capacity.
At its worse, someone in the relationship can feel put out and resentful.
On the referring side of the collaboration, this happens when the other attorney or paralegal involved is more dedicated to their other work and not your project. This does not always manifest itself in untimely work, but it does often manifest itself in non-quality work. It can also result in a lack of appreciation that the referring lawyer was the one that developed the business and is expending resources to monitor it, collect the fees and distribute the money.
On the referred side, it is often a matter of money. Not only when or if money will flow from the arrangement, but in what percentage or amount compared with the division of work both anticipated and actually completed.
For both the referring side and the referred side, this is often a matter of perception of each. Do both sides agree to a premium for the one obtaining the project in the first place? Is there a feeling by one that he or she is doing the most work for the least compensation? Is there a feeling that the other is really more focused on their other work? Is there a concern about the quality of the work product produced?
The issues involved and the feelings felt are often more a matter of nuance.
The key I have found is for mutual transparency. These things need to be discussed upfront. The process and settlement of the case needs to be open to everyone. The general schedule and amount of work dedicated to the case by everyone needs to be disclosed. Otherwise, people can be left feeling violated.
So, although I recommend collaboration, it needs to be approached right.