Biglaw, Contract Attorneys, Document Review

Notes From the Legal Industry Underground

Aw, that’s cute. You thought you’d see the inside of one of these when you graduated from law school.

Ed. noteAlex Rich is a contract attorney reviewing documents for meager pay so Biglaw attorneys don’t have to. Alex will be sharing some thoughts about the growing phenomenon of contract attorneys here on Above the Law.

The good old days.

That may not be a phrase you generally associate with being a contract attorney, but it did exist. $45 an hour. Overtime. Cars home. Meals expensed. In 2013 this seems chimerical, but it did exist. Now the industry is all $27/flat (or worse); no toilet paper; and mockable Craigslist pleas to unionize (because Cesar Chavez would totally have advertised/picketed alongside missed connections and ads for escorts in the 21st century).

I know there are partners or associates derisively reading this in an office somewhere with a door that actually closes feeling schadenfreude over the pain of contractors. I mean, contract attorneys are all TTT graduates who probably shouldn’t have gone to law school in the first place, moms who appreciate the scheduling “freedom” of temp work, or flaky wannabe actor/writer/comedians who can’t hold down the rigors of being a real lawyer. Right?

Wrong….

The marketplace is now filled with Tier 1 (or hell, even T14) graduates and Biglaw castoffs that start temping with a glassy-eyed-how-did-I-get-here look that turns pretty quickly to the dead stare of yes-this-is-my-life. They have officially entered the ghetto of the legal profession where making even the minimum payment on your student loans seems like a long-ago dream and clawing your way out seems impossible when putting an employment agency on your résumé is even more glaring than a year-long unemployment gap.

How we got here really isn’t a mystery. While we can lament the overall state of the legal industry, the real issue is one of supply and demand. There were massive layoffs, summer associate classes were cut, and whole firms folded (Dewey know how we got here?). Meanwhile law school applications may have dropped, but not fast enough or quickly enough. And the jobs are not coming back. Even among all the desperate “Biglaw isn’t dead” screeds we’ve been treated to lately, no one is seriously suggesting the size of these firms will return to the glory days (loosely defined as 2006).

And those derisive Biglaw attorneys shouldn’t get so comfortable looking down on contract work. As clients get more savvy, they are unwilling to pay for 75 junior associates to esoterically debate the potential privilege of a read-receipt for .75 hours when there are people with five years of litigation experience capable of churning through 100 documents an hour. Oh, and at 1/10th of the cost.

That’s how firms get their lunch eaten.

I may only be a silly little doc reviewer (with seven years of industry experience), but even I can see we’ve got ourselves a contractor problem.

Like it or not, faithful readers, but I am a part of your world, and your ATL editors have decided to make a place for me (and these issues) at the table. This column will be dedicated to all things contract attorney. Is there a project manager who wields their power like it’s the ring of Sauron? Are you fearful that predictive coding technology has finally gotten good enough to take away even the meager living of being a contract attorney? Are you waiting with bated breath for Judge Abrams to rule on the Motion to Dismiss in the Henig case to see if your job is really legal work? Have the working conditions at a particular doc review joint gotten unbearable? Are you really taking that job for $26 an hour? Did you finally break free and actually parlay that temp job into an actual associate job — hahaha, just kidding, that doesn’t happen. Send an email to tips@abovethelaw.com, subject line “Contract Attorney Issues,” to let us know exactly what is going on out there.

Who’s eating law firms’ lunch? [ABA Journal]

Earlier: Contract Attorney Problems: I Hope Law School Taught You How To Hold In Your Pee
A Contract Attorney Union?
House Rules: The Rates Are Too Damned High! (Part One)
Contract Attorney Alleges He Wasn’t Doing Real Legal Work, Sues For Overtime


Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting.  If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at tips@abovethelaw.com, subject line “Contract Attorney Issues.”

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