A contract is an agreement that creates mutual obligations between two or more parties. An indispensable part of nearly every business or personal transaction, well-written contracts are beneficial to all involved parties and can establish long-lasting relationships. Sometimes complex in nature, they must be crafted correctly and contain certain elements in order to be enforceable. A contract lawyer is an attorney that specializes in creating and negotiating contracts to ensure they are legally binding according to state laws. Read on to learn more about the contract lawyer.
What Does a Contract Lawyer Do?
From buying cell phones to starting businesses, contracts are a vital part of any agreement. They provide the parties involved with a legal document that outlines the nature of the relationship by specifying the expectations of each party. Governed by state laws, contracts are legally enforceable and provide ample protection if one party fails to follow the agreed upon terms and conditions.
Not every agreement between parties is legally binding, however, and for a contract to be enforceable, it must contain the following elements:
- Mutual Assent – The parties involved must have a shared an understanding of what the contract covers.
- Offer – One party makes an offer and indicates their willingness to enter into a contract.
- Acceptance – The other party accepts the proposed terms.
- Consideration – Something of value is promised to one party in exchange for something else of value.
- Capacity – All parties must have the ability to legally enter into the contract. For example, minors cannot enter into contracts.
- Legality – A contract involving illegal activity is not legally binding.
When one party does not fulfill their terms of the agreement, it is referred to as breach of contract. When a dispute over a contract arises, the parties can agree to using a mediator or binding arbitration. Binding arbitration involves having a neutral party look over the case and decide on the outcome. If the issue cannot be resolved through these measures, the non-breaching party may file a lawsuit to recover damages.
Contract lawyers are legal professionals that specialize in contract law. They help clients at every stage of a contract and reduce the risk of lawsuits. Generally, this type of lawyer creates contracts, reviews contracts made by another party, aids in negotiations, enforces the terms of the agreement, and represents clients in the event of a lawsuit.
A contract lawyer first meets with potential clients to address their needs and decide whether to take on the case. He or she then advises the clients and discusses the fees involved. The official attorney/client relationship begins when the client puts down a retainer, which is like a deposit. The attorney then works with the client to create the contract, or to complete paperwork involved with filing a lawsuit.
Professional Requirements to Become a Contract Lawyer
The first step in becoming a contract lawyer is obtaining an undergraduate degree. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, you must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). A standardized test required by all ABA approved law schools, the LSAT assesses verbal reasoning and reading skills. The next step in the process is earning a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree by attending law school. You will spend your first year learning the basics of law and subsequent years focusing on your desired practice area. While in law school, you can also complete internships, clerkships, or legal clinics to gain experience.
After receiving a J.D. degree, you must take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before taking the bar exam (this does not apply to residents of Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico). The MPRE determines whether your conduct and professionalism meet the standards set by the American Bar Association (ABA). The last step is taking the state bar exam. If you wish to practice in more than one state, you must take the bar exam in each state where you intend to practice.
Additional Education and Experience
You may also obtain a Master of Laws (LL.M.) degree in contract law. This internationally recognized post-graduate degree program provides you with a deeper knowledge in your preferred practice area.
Additional Licensing Requirements
All but a handful of states have additional licensing requirements for lawyers once admitted to the state bar. For most states, legal education (CLE) is mandatory to ensure practicing attorneys stay up-to-date with new legal developments. The amount of hours required and the reporting frequency varies by state.
Where Can You Work as a Contract Lawyer
Where a contract lawyer works often depends on the type of client they represent. Attorneys that represent consumers (individual people) or small businesses often work in small law firms, or as solo practitioners. Those representing larger businesses generally work in larger firms. Other options include working with non-profit organizations or government agencies.
Large corporations or businesses that deal with contracts frequently hire lawyers as in-house counsel. In this instance, the contract lawyer works exclusively with the client.
How do Contract Lawyers Get Paid
How contract lawyers are paid varies depending on the case. It is not uncommon for an attorney to require a retainer, which is a partial payment put into a special account for the lawyer to use as services are rendered. If spent before the case concludes, the client may be asked to pay an additional retainer. The lawyer must keep a log of time spent on the case and provide a copy to the client to show how the retainer was spent.
Contract lawyers either charge a flat rate or work on an hourly basis. Hourly fees can range from $100 to $800, or more, depending on the attorney, and this rate usually does not include extra services such as filing fees or travel expenses. The complexity of the case also plays a role in the overall costs. For instance, creating a basic contract will be less expensive than filing a lawsuit due to breach of contract.
Flat rate fees are usually reserved for cases that are simple or well-defined such as uncontested divorces and bankruptcy disputes. When discussing fees with an attorney, it is important for clients to find out exactly what the flat rate does and does not cover.
Contract Lawyer Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook states that the median annual wage for attorneys is $119,250 ($57.33/hr) as of 2018. The BLS does not differentiate between the types of lawyers however, so wages vary depending on the area of practice.
Contract lawyers with more experience, seniority, and expertise tend to fall on the higher end of the salary spectrum and can make $200,000 or more annually.
Employment Outlook for Contract Lawyer
The BLS projects the employment rate of lawyers to grow around 8%, between 2016 and 2026, which is average for all occupations in the United States. The economy plays a small role in the growth of the field of law.
Hiring a Contract Lawyer
If you are considering signing a contract or are dealing with a breach of contract, it is a good idea to speak to an experienced attorney. While there are expenses associated with a hiring one, doing so can prove to be extremely valuable. A contract lawyer can ensure that the contract includes the elements required to be legally binding and can also minimize your risk of a lawsuit.
One you have decided on hiring a contract lawyer, it is important to select one that will be beneficial to your case. The nature of the contract will also play a role in selecting the right attorney. For instance, if the contract is between two individuals, a solo practitioner or small firm will likely be suitable, but a sizeable corporation may benefit more from a larger law firm or in-house counsel.
After narrowing down your choices, set up an initial consultation, which most attorneys offer free of charge. This introductory meeting gives you the opportunity to discuss your needs and expectations. It also allows you to ask about the contract lawyer’s expertise, experience, and fees associated with the legal services. Meeting with more than one attorney can help ensure you choose one that best meets your needs.
How to Find the Right Contract Lawyer
Finding the right contract lawyer can seem like an overwhelming task, but there are resources available to make the process easier. One of the most reliable resources you will find is personal references. Ask family and friends if they know of a lawyer that specializes in contracts that they would recommend. Or, if you know an attorney that practices in another area of law, ask them for a recommendation. Another option is checking into databases that contain vital information about attorneys. There are databases available such as Avvo that include reviews, experience, and disciplinary records. You can also check the bar association attorney directory for your state to find the right contract lawyer.
|Juris Doctor (J.D.), Master of Laws (LL.M.) is optional
|Licensure in state of practice
|Critical thinking, negotiation, verbal and written communication, familiar with various templates, ability to research, analytical
|Number of Jobs (2016)
|8% growth rate (average growth rate)
|Median Salary (2017)
|On the Job Training
|Moderate term of on-the-job training
|Top earners in the field are generally employed by large law firms
(*Source: the BLS)