Contract Attorneys, Document Review

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Contract Attorneys

staff attorney contract attorney doc review.jpgThe world of contract attorneys isn’t our primary focus around here. We make occasional forays into that territory, but for the most part we leave it to more specialized sites, like Temporary Attorney (aka Tom the Temp).

If the temp-attorney world is your cup of tea, however, then check out this interesting new site, which several ATL readers have emailed us about: Big Debt, Small Law. We reached out to Law Is 4 Losers — the angry author, who still works as a contract attorney (he just finished a New York project for a large national law firm) — and asked him about the site’s origins. He explained:

I was prompted to start the blog for two reasons. First is the membership solicitation from the ABA asking me for $250 in dues and listing all the wonderful things that they’ve been doing of late to “improve” this profession (curiously, outsourcing my job to India via ethics opinion 08-451 was not among them).

Another reason was my recent NYS Law license renewal of $350. There was no waiver provision or extension for unemployed lawyers. [W]e contract attorneys have to pay health insurance, bar dues, CLE fees, and other obligations out of our own pocket. And at the $28 an hour straight-time now offered by NYC Biglaw (or the $40K small firms are paying), this is a hell of a lot of money. Forcing people to choose between their rent and their job is unconscionable….

I hope to warn incoming One L’s and prospective law students about the reality out there behind the slick admissions brochures and silver-tongued charlatan deans who will lie thru their teeth to get their hands on that Sallie Mae loan money. I’d also like to lobby the state bars to offer fee waivers or extensions on dues to unemployed lawyers who can prove financial hardship.

If you’re an associate and feeling sorry for yourself, perhaps because your pay has been cut or layoffs are taking place at your firm, Law Is 4 Losers doesn’t want to hear it:

Bad as things are for associates, they are 100 times worse for doc reviewers. We’ve been losing jobs every few weeks or months ever since leaving law school, having no “careers” to speak of, and also no health insurance, severance, or savings.

His most recent blog post — deeply depressing, but scabrously funny — describes the misery of temping at two of Biglaw’s biggest names: Paul Weiss and Sullivan & Cromwell. And he doesn’t pull his punches.


The post starts off with bitter general observations about the practice of law and the state of American legal education. Then it gets to the juicy stuff, focused on specific firms:

At Paul Weiss, for example, they crammed 120 people into a basement room that NYC fire code rated for 80. This was in 2005. Like steerage passengers on the Titanic, we labored in the bowels of the building, right alongside the boilers and HVAC equipment. Lacking air conditioning and adequate ventilation, many came down with colds that went untreated due to the lack of health insurance. A cockroach problem soon erupted due to the crumbs and food garbage strewn about the cellar floor, which was treated with multiple Raid roach fogger bombs. The morning after the exterminators finished, dead roaches littered our keyboards and even crawled, stunted but still living, from the floppy drives and servers!

We were paid $21 an hour, straight time, and required to work from 9 am to 11 pm seven days a week. Forbidden to use the firm’s lavish upstairs restrooms, they had all 120 of us split a pair of airplane sized-bathrooms that were on the Concourse level under the Rock Center, open to the public and a favorite bathing spot for the homeless. One affable homeless chap named “Bones” would use the lone toilet in there as a foot bidet, rinsing his diabetic ulcer in the excrement-caked shitpot and yelling “I’m in here motherfucker!”every time one of us coders needed to relieve himself. Most of us just went next door and used the Heartland Brewery’s bathroom (did I mention that restroom breaks of over six minutes had to be deducted from one’s timesheet? As a coder, bowel movements can quickly cut into the bottom line).

Shit out of luck, indeed.

The next stop on my vagabond coding career was Sullivan & Cromwell, that whitest of the white shoe firms. This dump has three levels of sunless, underground bunkers where the temp attorneys and their documents are warehoused, far away from the skyline corner offices where the serious shitpaper gets pushed. It’s like those alternative communities of urban legend that one reads about online: the subway’s “mole people” and such.

You are instructed by your temp agency pimp to meet in the lobby of 125 Broad Street at 9 am sharp, where you assemble as a group to be marched upstairs and “processed” like that busload of inmates from The Shawshank Redemption. Told to dress in a “suit and tie” for the first day, they soon march you downstairs to the dungeon where the “coders for life” toil in pajamas and sweatpants, chanting “new fish, fresh fish, we got new fish today” at the suit – clad newbies who are starting the first day of the rest of their lives. Many start openly weeping into their spiffy leather Perry Ellis portfolios, some even freshly monogrammed as recent law school graduation gifts. Many start bleating mindlessly for the mothers, returning to an infantile state as the overwhelming sadness and abject disappointment slowly seeps in. As I said, welcome ye to the first day of the rest of your life!

To the outside world, Sullivan & Cromwell looks like a well-oiled machine. Behind the scenes, it appears to be anything but:

Due to their colossal ineptitude, complete lack of common sense, and probably outright billing fraud, squads of coders arrive for the mandatory 14 hour “workdays” only to be kept idly waiting for hour upon endless hour as documents are loaded, clarifications are sought, software is configured, the moon rises in Taurus and Capricorn descends into autumn, etc. It’s rare to squeeze more than 45 minutes of actual coding time into a 14 hour day. Not knowing the Sullivan drill, many newbie coders turn down Sullivan gigs because the long mandatory hours rightly terrify them.

But us veterans know the old “Clownshop” (as the temps call it) all too well. The waiting coders nap, play cards, vandalize the workstations and so on while waiting for documents and instructions that rarely arrive. Some even operate wire fraud scams and lotteries on the S&C computers, thus “double dipping” and making real bank. A cool Nigerian coder even once used the break-room hot plate to cook us all an authentic African ox-tail stew, which ended with a dessert course provided by raiding the partner’s pantry freezer and ripping off a case of ice-cream sandwiches that were meant for some lame Merrill Lynch client meeting or whatever.

More likely Goldman Sachs. But anyway….

Of course, the clients are billed regardless, since firms of this caliber are as immune to the ethics rules as Typhoid Mary was to disease. It’s always some solo ambulance chaser who ends up disbarred for screwing up a $1500 fender bender whiplash case, while Sullivan and the other white-shoe thieves rip off Fortune 500 client’s cash by the wheelbarrow load with time-wasting make-work and pointless re-reviews of the same irrelevant documents.

“[F]irms of this caliber are … immune to the ethics rules” — well, we don’t know if we’d go that far. Even S&C partners aren’t above the law. Remember Carlos Spinelli-Noseda, the former Sullivan partner who resigned from the bar after defrauding clients and the firm to the tune of $500,000?

We’ve just given you excerpts. Read the full post, which contains some choice observations about various Paul Weiss partners and S&C case analysts, over here.

Shitlaw Primer, Part I: Life of a Coder [Big Debt, Small Law]
The Upton Sinclair Of Temp Lawyer Hell [Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition]

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