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Smart employers sometimes give freelance designers a few short assignments when they are considering hiring a full-time person. Often these will be in-house, so the employer can observe the freelancer's people skills.
It's a good idea to be up-front with the freelancer about the possibility of permanent work -- without making any promises, of course. For one thing, you may find that the freelancer doesn't want to join your organization full-time, preferring an independent career.
Be aware that if you work through an agency and hire one of their freelancers as a full-timer, you will probably have to pay a fee. Your agency rep should explain this early in the process. Think of this fee as the price you pay for getting prescreened job candidates, rather than having to wade through dozens of applicants' design portfolios yourself.