Starting a new job is never easy. That’s especially true when you’re looking to enter the world of document review. No one has ever gone to law school saying, “And when I’m done with this incredible investment of time and money, I’ll get to mindlessly click through documents!” We all thought we’d be arguing in front of the Supreme Court, or helping the less fortunate, or wheeling and dealing a big-time deal. But reality, she’s a harsh mistress. And student loans have got to be paid. So you make peace with the prospect of being a contract attorney.
As it turns out some loyal readers of this column are staring down the prospect of starting a sure-to-be-rewarding career as a contract attorney, and there are questions….
Are you (both personally, and CAs in general) more journeyman in nature where you follow the work and bounce among vendors, or do you tend to stick with one provider and just do whatever projects they may have?
I think this tends to vary based on the individual market. But, whenever possible, my preference is to stick with a single vendor, there is just a lot more stability that way. You get bounced from project to project with less down time. It’s really a win/win situation — you get regular work and the vendor gets a known reviewer. There are lots of super flakey people doing contract work, and if you’re the kind of person that will show up when they’re supposed to and code documents at a reasonable pace you are a known quantity that’s valuable to the company.
Beyond answering Craiglist ads or cold calling placement firms, what is the best way to choose and get in with a provider?
There are really two types of companies that can assist you in finding regular work, vendors and staffing agencies. To find out some of the players in your market, check out The Posse List, as that’s where most of the jobs get posted. For example, if you were to peruse the NYC postings you’d notice a heavy percentage of them are for a single vendor. If you start working for a vendor with a heavy pipeline of new projects, you are likely to roll from project to project (unless and until you screw it up).
Staffing agencies are also valuable in your quest to stay employed. Email one or two of them (they tend to get miffed if they find out you’re working with a bunch of other agencies, so be discreet if you’re working with more than one agency), fill out the necessary paperwork, and get on their mailing list. They’ll then directly email with opportunities before (or sometimes in lieu of) publicly posting them.
Do you really get to be flexible with your time, in terms of taking off blocks of time between projects, or do you get shafted if you say you’re not available for the next month because you’re hitting the beach?
When I first started I was incredibly nervous about taking time off and was worried everyone would hate me for taking breaks. But that’s really not the case, it’s a pretty accepted part of the industry. I used to work with a woman who recently immigrated to the U.S. and she’d take off months at a time to go back to the motherland. As soon as she was back in ‘Merica, she’d email the agency (with whom she would regularly work) let them know she was back and would be trained on a new project within days.
In your experience, is the work normal daytime shift work or is any of it second/third shift work? Related, are there opportunities out there to where if you wanted to work 12-14 hours a day, instead of 8-10 or whatever is standard, that you could do so? Either for the same company/project or (related to the first question) on a late shift of a different project?
There is hardly any late shift work anymore. Back in the day reviewers might have access to the review space 24/7 and could come and go as we please but that doesn’t happen anymore. There’s now an added layer of review management and they set the hours for a particular project. Generally, the hours for most projects are in the 8-10 hours a day range but occasionally you’ll see listings for projects that require a minimum of 12 hours a day for 6-7 days a week. Yes, thats a good way to make money quickly. But in my opinion it’s rarely worth it. It’s usually a sign there is some deadline looming and that can make the working conditions less than ideal.
You’ve been at this for 7 years, so clearly you’ve found a way to make it work for you. What was/is your strategy for maximizing making this type of work work for you?
This is largely related to the first question, but get “in” with a vendor or agency. Be nice, don’t be an asshole (that actually proves quite difficult for a lot of people). This will garner you a network of industry contacts and some stability in terms of your contracting work.
That’s all the questions we have about starting out as a contractor. If you have other questions, or tips about the contract attorney world send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexRichEsq