That may seem like a pretty random quote with which to begin a blog post, but trust me, it will soon make sense.
There has been a lot of chatter recently about contract attorneys and Biglaw. Some are finding themselves getting blacklisted left and right, which is not exactly breaking news in their corner of the e-discovery industry. Other contract lawyers are more resourceful, ahem, finding other gigs to support themselves. Earlier this week, there was another article about how contract attorneys are on the rise and how the pool of contract attorneys has never looked better.
Recently, however, between celebrating July 4th and our nation’s independence, knocking back a few Cuba Libres, and watching my beloved Argentine National Soccer Team completely self-destruct against the Germans, I was reminded of another aspect of being a contract attorney. (BTW, I say my Argentine National Soccer Team because my father is from Argentina. My mother was an American of Irish descent. Somehow, that makes me a Costa Rican. I know. I don’t get it either, but I digress.)
As a contract attorney, there are only two things the agency or firm you work with will definitively tell you: the day you start (and that’s not always so definitive) and the day you’re finished.
With that in mind, I decided to open a window into the world of contract attorneys and how they meet their fates in three separate instances. One I corroborated with several of my colleagues. Another I witnessed myself. Oh, and a third I am extremely familiar with, considering the attorney in question was me. Your feel-good post of the week awaits you, after the jump.
Several years ago, I was working on a second request matter for a modest-sized firm in DC. Although the heavy hours made the money decent, I was miserable. Perhaps I had been working too many hours without a break, or I didn’t appreciate the fact that one of the associates had no problem talking down to me like I was six-years-old. Regardless, not being good at hiding my emotions, my attitude clearly demonstrated that I was not a happy camper.
One morning, as I was arriving at work, one of the agency reps was there to greet me sitting on a sidewalk bench outside the building where the firm was located. I call him an agency rep, but truth be told this was a new agency, and this guy was the son of one the folks setting up the DC office. He was really young. In fact, I doubt he had even graduated college by this point.
“Gabe, glad we caught you. We tried to call you this morning. The firm has made a few cutbacks, and I’m afraid you were one of them.” (In actuality, the firm had made just one cutback, and it was yours truly.)
Realizing I had not taken my phone off silent mode since the day before, I checked it to see that I had six missed calls from the agency.
Being let go, whether you are singled out or sent home in a group, is never a nice feeling, normally. However, had this been any other day, it actually would have been great news. I had quite a bit of savings, plus the market was pretty steady, so I knew I wouldn’t be out of work for long. Besides, I thought it might be nice to have a few days off and relax.
Unfortunately, this was also the day that my soon-to-be mother-in-law was coming into town for a few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I think my wife is pretty okay and all adore my wife, but hanging out with her mom at home all day wasn’t my cup of tea.
As I stood there pondering where I would go next, I started to turn toward the building where now I used to have a job. Suddenly the agency rep/college kid jumped up from the bench, stood in front of the double door entrance, and spread his arms as if I were about to storm inside and go postal on the firm. I just rolled my eyes at him, shook my head, and walked away.
First They Came For The Key Fobs, and We Said Nothing
“Hey Mike, we’re having issues with your key fob. We need to reconfigure it.”
That statement, from an agency IT guy, seemed innocent enough.
“Oh, you know what that means,” quipped a contract attorney sitting next to Mike.
We began joking with Mike that this must mean it was his last day. Little did we know that poor Mike was becoming paranoid. He even went back to clarify with IT that everything was okay. After all, his key fob had been working just fine since he began the project.
“We had an issue with your fob,” the same IT guy assured Mike, “If we don’t get it back to you before you leave, call this number and we can let you in when you get here tomorrow.” The IT employee then handed Mike a post-it with the number written on it. Thankfully, that conversation put Mike at ease. After all, why would the IT guy have any reason to lie?
He was cut from the project that night.
I admit feeling kind of bad, though, considering when I left for the night I said sarcastically, “See you guys tomorrow. Well, maybe not you, Mike.”
That Really Isn’t Our Policy
“We are going to need and expect you guys to be here for several months,” said the Biglaw associate to a group of contract attorneys on the first day of their project.
Speaking of famous last words, most experienced contract attorneys know to take such pronouncements with a grain of salt.
On Wednesday of their first week, the team was told to stay home on Thursday due to a “database” issue, and not to return until noon on Friday. Upon arriving on Friday, the entire team met in the conference room, where, you guessed it, they were told that the project was over.
But, after going through the trouble of making their way downtown, the firm wasn’t going to let the group go without a healthy severance.
“Feel free to bill 15 minutes for this meeting,” the lead associate said.
When the attorneys asked the agency if they could bill for the four-hour minimum as required by DC law for hourly wage employees, the agency was more than magnanimous.
“That really isn’t our policy,” the agency rep responded.
After realizing that they had a throng of attorneys ready to take action over the four-hour snub, the agency eventually relented and paid them out.
Yup, welcome to my world.
Gabe Acevedo is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the owner of the e-discovery blog, GabesGuide.com. He also writes on legal technology and discovery issues for Above The Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.