Contract Attorneys, Craigslist, Document Review, Job Searches

Is It Okay To Take A Low-Paying Contract Attorney Job?

We’ve spent a fair amount of time in these pages decrying the low wages that contract attorneys are being offered. And the reasons for this go deeper than just some intrinsic belief that attorneys deserve to make more than minimum wage or the somewhat selfish desire to pay more than the minimum amount due on your student loans (or any of your other financial obligations).

Accepting low-paying jobs, and doing a decent (read: non-malpractice) job, has the effect of driving down the overall market rate. Once one major staffing agency or vendor starts offering below-market rates, others start dipping their toe into the cheaper waters and before you know it, the market standard has changed . . . and not in a way that helps contract attorneys. This reality has even gotten some begging their compatriots not to take below the market rate and even floating the idea of a contract attorney union.

So aside from the obvious, and all too common, scenario where you are trying to stave off financial ruin, is it ever okay to take a job that pays significantly below the market rate?

This is more than just a hypothetical question…

So our tipster got this job listing from our good friends over at Craigslist.

Major Financial company based in Manhattan is looking for recent Law School graduates to work on a long-term temporary basis.

Position is working with highly confidential documents and candidates must past a background check.Looking for hardworking candidates who have an interest in Corporate or Compliance.

MUST have previous experience working at a financial company or major law firm.

The rate is $16 per hour – Non-Exempt.

I guess the logic is that a “Major Financial Company” can’t afford more than $16 an hour?

For the record, $16 an hour is below the New York market rate. To be clear, there is nowhere that $16 is a good wage for contract attorney work, but NYC has been hovering in the $30 (+/- $5) an hour range. So this is a significant deviation, particularly considering they claim to require financial company/law firm experience. But can this job actually be worth it?

There is one big thing in favor of taking the job, and that is working in-house and getting compliance experience. Though I am certainly not suggesting this job will be anything but rote, it at least provides a little diversity on your résumé from “document review and other discovery related tasks.” And “compliance experience required” is something you frequently see when looking for full-time jobs, so this could well be your way to get that necessary experience.

What’s the worst case scenario? If it is terrible, you leave for the next $30-an-hour redaction project you find.

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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