Contract Attorneys

Crossing The Rubicon Of Full-Time Document Review Work

Sometimes I wonder if I have been giving the document review world a bad reputation, or at least a one-sided one. Sure, I have written about the gloom and desperation of document review, but, in reality e-discovery is more complex than that. Full-time work isn’t the chimera it once seemed, there is a growing market for full-time employment in the document review space, whether it’s working at a law firm as a discovery attorney, working for a vendor as a project manager or doing any one of the multitude of jobs rolled into the title of “staff attorney.”

The opportunities are definitely out there, the question is, should you take the job?

The Pros

Let’s start with the obvious here — it’s full-time work. No more worrying about finding your next project or filling our unemployment paperwork. Having work on more than a contract basis, even if it is still document review, does wonders for stress levels. Making actual financial plans is finally more than a fool’s errand when you know your salary in advance.

Speaking of plans, you might even feel empowered to make vacation plans. Sure, there is always time off as a contract attorney, but it is unpaid. That reality makes holidays and other time off fraught with worry. The stability of full-time work easily translates into a guilt-free vacation, hopefully somewhere tropical. There are other benefits too: healthcare, flex accounts, 401ks. The joy of not dealing with the Obamacare website may be ephemeral, but I am still counting it in the pro column.

Then there is the routine. Showing up to the same office, dealing with the same co-workers, going to the same Starbucks and knowing what to expect when you show up for work in the morning.  Settling into a daily pattern can be relaxing and take some of the stress out of working.

The Cons

Let’s start at the top for this side of the ledger as well. Money. While some full-time doc review jobs still pay by the hour many more offer what may seem to be a reasonable salary, but once you start doing the math it is decidedly less so. A salaried employee winds up working more hours than they expect and when you count all the fire drills, deadlines and general office craziness — well, the hourly wage isn’t quite so attractive.

Then there is the responsibility that comes along with the job. You have a limited amount of time off, while as a contractor you could take as much time off as you wanted. Sure, you didn’t get paid for the time off, but there is something valuable about the freedom associated with contract work. Maybe they give you an old school blackberry and expect you to respond to emails at all hours of the night. Mind you, the career prospects haven’t changed much. You are still reviewing documents, and have almost no chance to do much more than review documents until the day you quit.

Then there is the routine. Showing up to the same office, dealing with the same co-workers, going to the same Starbucks and knowing what to expect when you show up for work in the morning. The variety of contract work can inject much needed excitement into the monotony of document review.

The Verdict

Like most things in life, whether a full-time job in the document review industry is worth it is really up to you. With kids and a mortgage, the reliability of the constant employment is a good decision. If you’re dreaming about a three week trip to Rio, then contracting is right for you. The point is that as more and more law school graduates get thrust into the wide world of document review we need to be honest about the good and bad of all the options that exist.

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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 and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexRichEsq

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