Have legal guns, will travel

September 28, 1991|By Blair S. Walker

Attorneys Per Diem is on the lookout for crackerjack barristers.

Lawyers who, after a job well-done, can obtain similar results the following day -- for a different employer.

Laura Black and Mark Neumann started Attorneys Per Diem in June, taking the lawyer-as-hired-gun concept to its logical conclusion. Against the backdrop of a sluggish economy and layoffs and defections among law firm attorneys, Ms. Black and Mr. Neumann unleashed legal soldiers of fortune on the Baltimore area.

Their goal? That most revered and coveted of all lawyerly objectives -- billable hours, of course. Ms. Black and Mr. Neumann don't claim to have taken the region by storm, but they are pleased with the progress their lawyer temporary service has made thus far.

Attorneys Per Diem is "a very viable response to the economic condition of law firms, solo practitioners and the legal departments of corporations," Ms. Black said. "Legal work, like anything else, ebbs and flows. This allows lawyers to meet their demand without any long-term commitment."

So, legal theories and doctrines notwithstanding, Attorneys Per Diem really hews to the law of supply and demand. Ms. Black and Mr. Neumann saw a void and jumped to fill it. They left attorney jobs with large Baltimore law firms to do so.

Ms. Black, 38, took the leap first. In November, she walked away from Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, and her products liability responsibilities there. "I left Whiteford because I had three children, and I needed more flexibility in my lifestyle," she said. "I contracted myself out to different firms.

"I had been in business before, and I was just thinking of ideas to help meet my needs as well as the needs of firms."

Her free-lance legal endeavor went surprisingly well.

Benjamin L. Landis, a legal consultant, explained why:

"Law firms have been tightening their belts and, as a result, they tend not to hire lawyers if they can avoid doing it for projects they know are going to end in a given time," said Mr. Landis, who is with the Law Office Consulting Group in Washington. That city has had temporary lawyer services firms for at least two years.

"Law firms are very, very skeptical about what the future is going to hold for them, so where their business is down or flat, they will go for the temporary lawyer to assist them to meet their requirements," Mr. Landis said.

For Ms. Black, that translated to more work than she could handle by herself. "I was getting calls for areas [of the law] that I knew nothing about and thought it would make sense to have a pool of very talented attorneys who were experts in their field," Ms. Black said. "So, if a law firm or the legal department of a corporation needed an environmental lawyer, for example, I would have one to send them."

She contacted Mr. Neumann, 28, a fellow graduate in her University of Maryland Law School class in 1988, about starting a temporary service for attorneys. He left the real estate department of Frank, Bernstein, Conaway & Goldman earlier this year, and the two of them incorporated their rent-a-lawyer business in June.

"The way we fight any perceptions people might have about temporary help is by only accepting into our pool the very best people," Mr. Neumann said. "We know that it's our name on the line every time we send somebody out."

Inside their office at 16 S. Calvert St., Mr. Neumann and Ms. Black have resumes and background information on 50 lawyers with varied legal backgrounds. At least one can offer legal arguments in Spanish, while another can speak Chinese, Mr. Neumann said.

Two years of experience are required to join Attorneys Per Diem's work force. Many of its lawyers are women with young children, or former law firm members looking to supplement their incomes while they establish solo practices, Ms. Black said.

She and Mr. Neumann said Attorneys Per Diem is profitable and that they've had more than 40 clients whose jobs have ranged from five hours to more than six weeks.

Clients pay a flat rate based on the experience of the attorney, with the price varying from $60 to $100 per hour, Mr. Neumann said.

Those seeking Attorney Per Diem's services are sent the resumes of five lawyers from which to pick.

One customer has been Marc Seldin Rosen, a city attorney with a civil litigation practice. "They gave me resumes of a number of highly qualified lawyers," said Mr. Rosen, who had his attorney do legal research and writing. "There are a lot of people out there who have a lot of work that needs to be done. It's nice to have someone available who's there on a moment's notice to jump in and help you out."

Ms. Black and Ms. Neumann appear to be in the right place at the right time, Anne C. Neal, a Baltimore legal recruiter, said.

"Back when law firms were hiring almost willy-nilly -- in the early '80s almost to the mid-'80s -- there was a temporary firm here that did not succeed," said Ms. Neal, a partner with Williamson and Neal. "So, timing is everything."

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