Contract Attorneys

Do You Recognize Your Horrible Boss?

There has been no lack of digital ink detailing some of the… shortcomings that lawyers have as managers. I know, it isn’t your fault, no one ever taught you any different. But you know that old expression, sh*t only rolls in one direction? Well, contract attorneys are at the very bottom of the legal profession so we see plenty of it heading in our direction.

The structure of any given document review project may vary, so it may be hard to tell initially who is the “boss”. You may even have 8 bosses. Usually though, the small modicum of power they wield over a room of document reviewers just trying not to get hassled becomes obvious. It might be an associate from a law firm or they may have handed management of the project over to a staff attorney, there may be an intermediary from the staffing agency running the day-to-day operations of the project, or perhaps there is a document review management company involved trying to cut costs and justify its existence. It doesn’t really matter which particular structure exists on the project you are working on, the same types of bosses seem to exist everywhere.

So which kind of horrible boss are you working for?

If you’ve worked on a review project for any length of time, you know that petty politics and hard feelings abound. There is an old maxim that for any given situation the lower the stakes the higher the viciousness and bitter feelings. Well, document review boasts the lowest of stakes in the legal world. No matter how much smoke an associate or partner tries to blow up your ass about discovery being the backbone of litigation, it is still the most tedious and boring part.

Yet for all the newness of each project, you still start to notice certain… personalities that you just can’t seem to escape.

The Bully

This type is really into the public embarrassment of any reviewers below them. They loudly demand from across the room to know why you coded a particular document the way that you did. Nevermind you reviewed the doc two weeks ago and they have provided zero context. Even if you have a good reason for the coding choices you made they aren’t interested. All they want is a forum to derisively sigh and roll their eyes at you. They demand to know exactly where you’ve been for the last hour and six minutes, and the simple answer that you just took a long lunch never seems to satisfy them. This type seems to derive power and joy from the suffering of others, so jump to a new project the minute something comparable comes up.

The Wishy-Washy Leader

This boss is uncomfortable making any actual decisions. When you seek guidance on a borderline document they hem and haw for half an hour (killing your review rate) then finally come to a conclusion. Two days later you happen to overhear someone else asking the same question and getting the opposite answer. Even if you try to engage the Wishy-Washy Leader and try to figure out the rationale for the different coding you never get a satisfactory answer. You know that at some point nearly identical documents being treated differently will be an issue, just hope that you are far away (hopefully in Aruba, but probably just at another doc review project across town) when it all blows up.

The Delicate Flower

There are only certain conditions that this boss believes are acceptable. If they perceive it to be too cold, you are about to be blasted with heat, even when the rest of the room is stripped down to tank tops. Anything above a whisper is considered too loud, and you will be shushed if you dare to speak to your neighbor. And if you happen to forget the golden rule of silence? Well, don’t be surprised when you are told not to report to work the next day. It’s the Delicate Flower’s review space, you are just coding in it.

The Tester

This boss clearly misses the rigors of the law school Socratic method and has decided to institute it on their doc review projects. They sweep across the room inquiring as to why you are making the coding calls you are on each document. When you are asked why you have coded the document in front of you as responsive, you momentarily freeze. The real answer is that pretty much every time you see the word X it is responsive, but you know that is not the answer The Tester wants to hear. So you make up some BS and hope for the best. You only receive a non-committal answer, but the next day you notice several other reviewers have been let go. You breathe a sigh of relief that your BS skills were up to par and that you still have a job, for now.

The Best Friend Seeker

This is probably the most benign of all the boss types we have profiled here. They really tend to be more annoying than detrimental to your ability to earn money. They offer to buy the first round of drinks at happy hour, and those that go out and stay out the latest with The Best Friend Seeker start getting preferential treatment the next day at work. Maybe it is just getting some easy assignments or getting stroked with compliments, but as the project starts to wind down and the size of the team needs to be cut, you can bet their new buddies will be on the project the longest.

Do you have a story about a particularly terrible boss on a document review project? Feel free to share in the comments below, or if it is especially salacious, email at All tipsters are kept anonymous.

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

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