Back in the golden days of Biglaw (in the before times, in the long, long ago), associates were fired all the time. Getting laid off for poor performance or low hours is nothing new.
Of course, back when we had a functional American economy, getting fired was a temporary bump in the road. You could always work at a smaller firm or for the government. Back in the day, you could even work as a contract attorney if you needed something to tide you over.
Now … everything is different. And contract attorney jobs are great gets in this market. Yesterday, the National Law Journal ran a piece about the curious case of paying off law school debt while making $35 an hour:
As law firms downsize, laid-off attorneys and new law school graduates unable to find jobs have been turning to an option they may never have imagined at law school: becoming contract attorneys — hired guns for $35 an hour.
Yet in the past couple of months, even that field appears to be showing signs of a slowdown.
People who waited too long to swallow their pride and confront the reality of the financial crisis are finding that contract work has already been snapped up by less prestige conscious job seekers.
And it probably isn’t helping that just as the American legal market is starved for low level work, the ABA has made it easier to outsource doc review to other countries:
Also cutting into their business is the growing popularity of outsourcing to India. Hudson Legal has countered with an ad campaign that encourages law firms to “onshore,” and choose U.S. staffing companies where there are no security or privacy concerns and where they operate in the Eastern time zone.
Even if you land a contract attorney job you never thought you wanted, the working conditions remain just as bad as you remember them.
Every firm has a number of associates and partners that treat contract attorneys like red-headed step-children. For a lot of associates, being on the receiving end of that poor treatment is
called justice difficult to deal with:
Contract attorneys appear a discontented lot. A host of blogs have popped up railing about life as a contract attorney, including Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition; Document Review, Texas Style; Black Sheep of Philly Contract Attorneys; and My Attorney Blog: The Life of a Contract Attorney in Temp Town, Washington D.C.
Resounding with complaints about working conditions at temp agencies — including cockroaches and a lack of air conditioning — nosediving fees and tax nightmares, as well as advice about which agencies to avoid, the blogs do not paint a pretty picture of life as a contract attorney.
Of course, as what the President calls a “depression” worsens, more and more lawyers will try to ride out the downturn with temp work.
But should they? Law and More asks:
Why are men and women with law degrees and all the skills – analysis, writing, client management – which go with that education and training enduring this way of making a living? Are they unduly optimistic that if they just hang in as gypsy workers they will eventually land full-time jobs? Yeah, like Cravath or Jones Day recruits from the temp pool. Are they so passionate about law that they will do only that sort of work? Are they simply unimaginative about pulling together their abilities and creating something more lucrative, more their own, and more dignified? And/or do they lack the courage to leave the path they were pursuing since probably undergraduate days?
I’m going to get right on imagining up my next rent check.
Contract lawyers: cheaper by the hour [National Law Journal]
Gigonomics: Lawyers at $35 an hour [Law and More]