I think it says everything about the sad situation for contract attorneys that their attempts to “unionize” take the form of angry rants on Craigslist.

I mean, I guess it makes a certain kind of sense for contractors to put their demands on Craigslist. That’s where other contract attorneys are looking for work. That’s where employers are submitting ads and trying to gauge the market rate for this kind of thing. If an employer comes across a Craigslist post urging contract attorneys not to accept work for less than $30 an hour, maybe that employer is more likely to offer $30 an hour?

OR… the employer will call in the other partners in the office to look at the Craigslist demands, chortle, offer $15 an hour, and watch as contract attorneys learn important lessons about supply, demand, and the collective action problem…

This Craigslist post does not lack for passion. It might lack for a clear-headed plan of action, but not passion:

ATTENTION Document Review Attorneys (Financial District)

Stop allowing these employers to lower our rate! You do not have to take on projects that pay so low, while the associates behind the scenes make $200+ per hour off your hard work!

Do not take on those projects which try to pay us less than $30 per hour; this is obscene. When we are hundreds of thousands in debt with three-year degrees in the professional practice of law, there is no excuse for working attorneys to be paid under $30 per hour on grueling document review projects that don’t even provide basic benefits. Paralegals in firms earn much more than we earn for our document review work. PARTNERS and ASSOCIATES in these firms are earning millions off of your discovery work; it’s time we stand up and refuse to work for jobs paying less than $30.

Sadly for contract attorneys, what partners and associates make is irrelevant. Sure, partners and some associates make a lot more, per hour, than your average contract attorney… and I would certainly suggest that contract attorneys who want to make more money become partners or associates. But, for whatever reasons (and I’m sure many of the reasons are not particularly fair), contractors can’t become partners and associates at the firms that hire them for temporary work. So, that’s why some make “millions” while others are desperate for $30 bucks an hour.

And, again sadly, the “excuse” for working attorneys to be paid under $30 an hour is that less-than-$30 is still better-than-$0. You can refuse to work for jobs paying you less than $30/hour all you want, so long as you can also refuse to pay rent or eat food.

The guy writing this post seems to have a really good idea about what is fair for contractors:

STOP taking jobs that do not offer you a proper wage for your efforts, abilities, and ambitions. We are admitted to practice law, and we worked hard to achieve this result. If we don’t stop this practice of taking low-paying contract work, the wages will only get lower. In one year, you’ll be seeing ads for $20/hr doc review. Don’t undersell your worth. A crisis of confidence is the worst crisis within this profession; there are more lawyers who lack confidence in their skills than unemployed lawyers. Defend your profession.

No professional earns as little as document reviewers given their education and debt. Nurses earn $50 an hour in some hospitals without full college degrees; paralegals earn over $50 an hour in many firms. Do not let these low-ball ads play on your insecurities. Wait for the good contract job; there are plenty of firms who pay $30+ to $40 per hour for regular document review.

The problem, of course, is that life is not fair. Employers are not fair, and clients are certainly not fair. Nobody cares about your ambitions, your hopes, or your dreams. Nobody cares that you made a horrible economic decision to go to an expensive law school in a depressed job market. Well, I care about that, but that’s why I spend an inordinate amount of time warning people about law school before they get themselves into the kind of desperate situation where you have to take a low-ball offer. People don’t get here because of lack of confidence, people end up here because they had too much confidence before going to law school — confidence unsupported by any reasonable look at the economic reality of the situation.

Don’t get me wrong, if there were some way to artificially inflate the wages for contract attorneys, I’d probably be for it. I’m a big fan of regulation. And I do wish the ABA pretended to care about this issue:

The market has told attorneys they have no value. Wrong. The market desperately needs lawyers – just not the way its structured today. If document review attorneys BANDED together – UNIONIZED – if ALL attorneys who left law school had an American Bar Association that actually defended the living standards of attorneys, we wouldn’t be in this situation. The ABA allows law schools to open up their doors at high prices across the country without regard to quality of education. The ABA is an organization whose ethics rules are designed to promote the needs of its writers – the partners and big shot lawyers who will revolve through government and firms to make their big bucks. Fuck the solos. Fuck the new attorneys. This is the view of the ABA. Screw the ABA and their weak assistance.

I’m just skeptical about the ability of temporary workers to act collectively, especially when there is so much desperation in the market, so many more J.D.-holders coming down the pipeline, and so few clients willing or able to pay for high-priced legal services. Look at how the guy misunderstands the fact that there is a need for lawyers working for low income clients:

Stand up for yourself. We have been told our profession is over-populated, that there are too many lawyers. No. There are plenty of clients in need. The problem is simple – and it is a problem across all fields: the executives and partners at the top take gross paychecks at the expense of others in their professions. Hospital Executives earn millions while primary care doctors work 60 hour weeks for lower wages. Corporate firms bill by the hundreds with their monopoly of clients, while non-elite students get excluded from the legal monopoly. Legal Aid societies and civil rights non-profits don’t even allow non-elite lawyers into their ranks. Wanna work for the ACLU? Good luck if you didn’t attend a top 14 school.

That’s just wrong. It’s not high executive pay that makes it hard to service clients in need. It’s that lawyers saddled by six figures of debt have no ability to service poor people, and lawyers who are debt free have no desire to service the poor. The problem is that this guy would rather work as a $30 contract attorney, or not work at all, instead of servicing destitute individuals in need of legal services but not able to pay for them.

If you really want to do the kind of work Legal Aid does, but can’t get that job because you didn’t attend an elite law school, you could start your own thing. It’s not like Legal Aid can service nearly as many people as need it. The problem is that there’s no way to make a living off of servicing the poor unless you’ve got charitable contributions or government funding. Don’t blame the “fat cats” if that’s what you want to do, learn how to ask the fat cats for money.

Market issues aside, a big problem for contract attorneys in their attempt to act collectively is that many of them are contracting because they can’t or don’t want to do anything else. People can’t or don’t want to be associates and eat all those hours. People can’t or don’t want to open their own firms and hustle for clients all day. And nearly everybody I’ve met who is a contract attorney thinks or hopes that it’s a temporary thing. It’s not like an auto-worker who intends to stay at the plant until he retires on a pension. Everybody thinks they’re one lucky break from becoming a full-time associate, or opening their own business, or traveling around the world, or pumping out a kid, or doing something else.

It’s just hard to exhort people who think of themselves in a temporary or transitory phase of life to make sacrifices for the long-term, and even harder to get them to sacrifice for somebody else’s long-term. You can see the Craigslist post in full on the next page. I wish the guy the best of luck but, man, I bet if DLA Monrovia offered this guy a full-time associate position, he’d end his Craigslist contract attorney advocacy in a hot minute.


comments sponsored by

48 comments (hidden for your protection) Show all comments