It’s that time of year again. Maybe you call it the most wonderful time of the year, but it isn’t all holiday parties and goodwill towards men. There is inherent stress build into the expectations of the season (the trifecta of family time, gift giving and less sunlight) that can turn ordinary people into basket cases.
While contract attorneys may not have the burden of worrying about what to get their secretary, there are still financial, emotional and social pitfalls to avoid.
So what are the best tips to survive this season…
1- The Eye of Sauron is still watching you
It is easy to let things slide in December. We all have a multitude of obligations pressing upon us at this time of year and especially when you are at a job that is… less than intellectually stimulating, why not cut some corners in that area? It gets dark at 4:30, so whats the harm in leaving everyday at 5 (the client’s “recommendation” of 12 hours per day be damned)? You know you are supposed to code 125 documents an hour, but these Christmas cards aren’t going to address themselves. These are perfectly natural and human responses. But this isn’t a permanent job where you have built up good will and political capital over the course of a year so you can get a free pass to take it easy at the end of the year. There are project managers who are paying attention to those details and trying to cut “waste” to justify their own jobs. Just remember, those hiring you for a contract attorney position have not invested in you as an employee, and it is almost always easier to cut people from a project than to fix an issue.
2- On the importance of budgeting when one does not have a regular income
I’ve contemplated the question, “What is the worst thing about not having a permanent job?” quite a bit. For me, I think the answer is the lack of paid time off. I’ve written before about how that creates a financial incentive to spread germs, but it also has a downside during holidays. Though I’ve heard rumors that some agencies will give holiday pay to long-term contractors, that is not generally the case. It may seem “nice” that a document review project isn’t open on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, but it is also a pay cut. And just when you are trying to figure out how to buy little Timmy that BB gun. So make sure you ask your agency or the project leaders about the anticipated holiday schedule. Maybe you are on a project with an impending deadline and you can work as many hours as you want next week, or maybe your project will be on hold through the new year, but it always pays to know the answer as soon as possible.
One nice thing about the end of the year is that it creates a clear line of demarcation, and lots of projects and cases use the end of the year to establish cut-offs or deadlines. This means short-term projects with lots of available hours. So if you have the ability to work over the next few weeks, do it. Check with your agency, The Posse List, and perennial favorite Craigslist to see what opportunities currently exist in your market.
4- Turn that frown upside down
I am sure seasonal affective disorder is a real thing, and I know that people have familial obligations that weigh heavily on them at the holiday, and it is true that money is an issue in December (see #s 2 and 3 supra) but try to put on your game face at work. I’ve been on a months-long project that just kind of feels like it’s ramping down. This means the normal end-of-project anxiety has been multiplied by Christmas stress. Awesome. I’ve now seen not 1, not 2, but 3 different individuals, who are ostensibly professionals, in the break room/hallways/bathroom crying and/or speaking very agitatedly into their phone over the past week. Other people can see and hear you and they may remember your breakdown if they are ever in a position to staff another project.
5- Join Oversharers Anonymous
Some folks just like to talk at work, some people especially like to talk at work when they are doing mindless, repetitive tasks. Some people do not seem to mind that the person they are talking at is someone they met a week ago that they just happen to be seated next to. If you are one of those people, please try to take a second to realize your love of the gab is not universal. You may think your seat-mate is enamoured by the current status of your Christmas shopping list but that is not always the case. I know you have a lot of things on your mind with the holidays coming up and it seems natural to you to share those things with anyone and everyone but try to be self-aware and pay attention if your new best friend at work doesn’t seem attentive and dial down the stream of chatter.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org