Life can be strange sometimes. When I started writing this column I had a few expectations of what I might encounter. A few gossipy scandals, some crazy tales from document review projects, and one or two commenters encouraging me to commit suicide. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least not for the pages of ATL.
But I never planned on being an advice columnist. Dear Abby I am not. However, years of being a contract attorney have taught me to roll with the punches. And if a reader emails in looking for advice, then dispense advice I will.
So how do you get started as a contract attorney?
First, let’s delve into the email I received.
Hi Alex Rich,
I am in an interesting predicament. My current employer, a government agency, has a job opening for me, but because of the nature of government bureaucracy, the job won’t actually start for somewhere between 1-4 months.
Cue in rent, food, and other expenses. I was given the idea that I could fill in the time by doing contract work, but haven’t the slightest idea how to find contract work.
I am barred in Maryland and DC, and am looking for part-time, temporary contract attorney employment, about 20 hours a week. I saw your postings on Above the Law, and wondered if you had any advise for finding contract work, especially in the DC area.
This may not be your field, but any help would be appreciated.
Now I was pretty flattered to receive this request — it’s always nice to be thought of as a bit of an expert in something. Even if that expertise is finding the least rewarding job you are ever likely to have. We’ve already tackled how to survive your first foray into the legal underbelly, but how exactly do you land that first job? (Assuming your law school isn’t pushing you into the field.)
1. Craigslist. It’s not just for perverts anymore.
You may not have used Craigslist since that one time in college you were trying to unload a futon, but it is a surprisingly rich source of leads for temporary attorney jobs. Now, there are lots of leads on Craigslist, but not all of them are great — in fact we’ve featured a few Craigslist jobs as our “Worst Jobs.” But like every other field it gets easier once you get your foot in the door. You’ll meet doc review veterans and other contactors that will know more specifics about the market you’re working in.
2. Listservs are your friend.
I know getting unwanted emails is annoying, but it’s 2014 and they are already a giant part of your life. I’ve had the most luck with The Posse List, which maintains separate lists by location, specialty and foreign languages. Subscribe to the lists the are most applicable and they’ll send you the job listings, right to your email. The Posse List specializes in legal work, so it requires less searching than a general job website. However, simple searches or alerts set up on employment websites like Indeed or Simply Hired for “temporary attorney” or “document review” will yield results.
3. Staffing Agencies, staffing agencies, staffing agencies.
Almost all of the temporary attorney jobs out there are through staffing agencies. Meaning you rarely (or at least not at first) get hired by the law firm, client or managed document review company you are doing the work for. The staffing agencies act as intermediaries (taking their cut, of course) and they assist in the project staffing. So do a quick google search of staffing agencies in your area and pick one or two to register with. (This just means filling out some basic employment forms.) Then you’ll start getting emails and calls about exciting opportunities, which, at the very least should help with the rent.
Earlier: Document Review Attorney Was Fired. What Happens Next Will Amaze You.
If This Van’s A-Rockin’ Don’t Come A-Knockin’
7 Tips For New Contract Attorneys
This Law School Is Finally Being Honest About Job Prospects
Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Contractors
5 Threats Contract Attorneys Pose For Biglaw Associates
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