Lawyers, by nature, are not very optimistic people. Maybe it’s a function of assessing risk constantly — with your ass on the line no less. Or just that lawyers tend to get called in after the s**t has hit the fan, so we aren’t generally exposed to the very best of humanity.
I can no longer remember if I was an optimistic, glass-half-full kinda person before law school, but surely there was some spark in me that saw the good in people and situations. I know because I just felt that small flame of hope flickering in my chest get extinguished. And it’s all because of a job posting
So what job is so bad it has me questioning my very faith in humanity?
We all know that outsourcing document review to contract attorneys is a cost-cutting measure. Gone forever are the glory days of junior associates spending weeks slogging through the most mundane of emails… all while billing their time out at $300/hr. Contract attorneys now do that work (and feel lucky to even get 1/10th of the associate’s hourly rate) and because they have experience with the review tools and don’t labor under the illusion that document review is below them, they tend to do it faster with no appreciable decrease in quality.
But even though the purpose of using contract attorneys is to save money, that doesn’t mean that waste is eliminated. It still happens all the time.
But what is the most blatant waste of money I’ve ever seen?
When you’ve been doing anything for a while there are certain patterns that emerge as you start to make sense of the madness. Document review is no different. Sure, as a temporary job your employer changes frequently, but the core of the job at hand remains the same. So it doesn’t matter who the client is, what staffing agency you’re with, or how the project is managed there are some idiosyncrasies to the job that crop up repeatedly. These are the dependable quirks of contract attorney life that have become the bane of my existence and I am certain other doc review monkeys will recognize the pattern.
So what are the ways in which all document review projects are the same?
Ah, the billable hour. It is the bane of many attorneys’ existence, and almost anyone who has spent time within a law firm has their own story about… ethical lapses surrounding billing. Maybe it’s something seemingly small or benign like always rounding up when tracking working time or billing through bathroom breaks (or Farmville breaks) because, hey, your brain was still thinking about the issue. Or maybe it’s billing the exact number of hours a partner believes a task should take, no matter how quickly you are actually able to charge through it.
The perverse incentives created by billing by the hour (especially when the attorneys involved have billable requirements for either their job security or their expected bonus) for legal work has been well tread, but sometimes a document review attorney has a really clever excuse….
Often times, lawyers get a reputation as Luddites. Refusing to be up to date with the latest technology, it takes only the smallest set back to have attorneys running back to old fashioned ways. So, I am sure many readers, even those of you not currently taking the bar exam, probably had a visceral reaction when you heard about the extensive tech issues surrounding the July 2014 exam. Lat even called it “the most serious bar disaster I’ve ever covered in the eight years since I started Above the Law.”
Unsurprisingly, if you followed the news on Twitter, there was also a fair amount of schadenfreude from more, ahem, established lawyers crowing about how the low-tech experience of their day was obviously superior. Elie even got into the mix.
Ok old people. Let's not all make fun of the "kids" with their "fancy computing machines" all at once. Let's go one at a time. #examsoft
When portraying lawyers, television tends to stay away from the horrors of Biglaw. The good versus evil of the criminal justice system tends to get more play; there is more inherent drama when freedom is on the line (and who can resist the ubiquitous chung CHUNG). If any other types of lawyers are represented, it skews toward do-gooders making emotional pleas in court as champion of the underdog or smarmy corporate lawyers finding the loopholes for the rich. But the hard-working cogs that actually make the legal industry churn along go unrecognized.
So what happens when a network sitcom tries to take on Biglaw?
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?
If clichés are to be believed, confidence is extremely important in the business world. And speaking in broad stereotypes, confidence (or at least faking it) is something that lawyers are supposed to possess. So I suppose it really shouldn’t be shocking that an attorney advertising for work would reek of smugness, but actually seeing it? Well, all I can think of is AC/DC.
Not content to scour Craigslist for available job listings, one contract attorney has taken things a step further. This intrepid individual has posted an ad seeking work as a contract attorney. And the results? They’re spectacular….
If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, by now you’ve probably seen the Slate article encouraging people to “Apply to law school now!”, as well as Joe’s biting reply. The beef has gone back and forth. I’m not going to debate the job numbers; that’s been handled more than ably, and those who are willing to make an honest assessment of the job market already have.
Instead I am going to focus on the human cost of losing the law school lottery….
We all know the job market is tough. Despite the somewhat optimistic take David has on the the latest NALP employment numbers, the reality of trying to find employment as a full-time attorney remains challenging. Maybe you’ve heard about contract attorney positions, but are not quite ready to take the plunge into the exciting, fast-paced world of document review. Maybe the temporary nature of the work doesn’t fit your lifestyle or perhaps you’re just putting off the inevitable plunge into the life of mindlessly clicking on documents for as long as possible.
So, what do you do? One unfortunate soul packed their pride away and applied for a state government paralegal position. But the status of the application will probably give you pause.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.