staff attorney contract attorney doc review.jpgThe recession has forced Biglaw firms to lay off some of the best and the brightest in the legal field. Many of these Biglaw refugees have wound up seeking out contract work (despite the long-term risks), and that means the pool of contract attorneys is mighty pretty right now. In-house legal departments have noticed and are taking advantage, reports the Legal Intelligencer (in an article we mentioned in the Holiday Docket yesterday).

In an ACC survey about the effects of the recession that we wrote about last week, 51% of in-house folks reported an increased workload last year. And staffing firms say that general counsel are looking to them to help out. Gina Passarella writes:

Project attorneys are a more viable answer to the budget problem in part because there are so many skilled lawyers out of work due to layoffs at AmLaw 200 firms and the consolidation of legal departments prior to the economic downturn, which led to cuts in those departments as well, [staffing firm owner James] LaRosa said.

“The pool of contract attorneys right now is exceptional,” he said.

A typical candidate right now would have experience at either an AmLaw 200 firm or a specialized boutique, and oftentimes will have law department experience as well.

The pool may be exceptional, but the pay is not. Will contract attorneys be as appealing once the economy bounces back and Harvard grads can get big-paying, Biglaw jobs again?

Our legal technology columnist, Gabe Acevedo, often talks up the merits of contracting, one of which is the ability to run a sexy side business. Others paint a less rosy picture.

LaRosa tells the Intelligencer that the “average rate for project attorneys is between $75 and $150 an hour, with perhaps a higher hourly rate for more specialized attorneys.” Though the rates can be much lower if the company hires the contract attorney directly, judging from a Fortune 500 ad that the Temporary Attorney recently posted:

Fortune 500 Company is seeking several contract attorneys for a review starting this Wednesday!

We are seeking licensed attorneys who can commit to at least 10 hours a day and who are available to work through this upcoming holiday weekend and all of next week.

If you are interested, please send your resume in WORD.

Compensation: $26/hr (flat rate)

Working through the holiday weekend for $26/hour is not an appropriate way to celebrate American freedom and independence. Though perhaps it’s a nice nod to our country’s history of dependency on slaves.

Apparently, assignments like this are a trend:

Steve Feder, co-founder of start-up GenCounsel, said he too has noticed a growing need from general counsel who feel they are “boxed in” between increasing workloads, hiring freezes and budget crunches that prevent significant use of outside counsel.

Feder said he found it to be a “disturbing trend,” however, that contract attorneys are being brought into law departments on week-to-week engagements and are being paid “embarrassing” rates for their experience level.

Disturbing and embarrassing as it may be, it’s good business sense. In-house departments are taking advantage of the environment created by the Biglaw purge. Note to law firms: when the recession ends, here’s a big reason to hire back your talent.

Or perhaps law firms will just start using contract attorneys too.

In-House Departments, Law Firms Rely More on Project Attorneys [Legal Intelligencer]
Take Advantage Of The Unemployed Week [Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition]
Law Firms Express ‘Growing Enthusiasm’ for Contract Lawyers [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Salary Scale and Recession Survival Tactics for In-House Counsel
Biglaw’s Status Issue


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