I recently received an email from a rather desperate attorney. They’d finally come to the realization that after losing their job a few months ago they would need to take a contractor position, and they weren’t happy about it. I wasn’t either when I took my first contract attorney job, but it pays the bills and I guess that is the point.
Do you remember that old anti-drug PSA from the 80s that informed us that no kid wants to grow up to be a junkie? Well, no law student wants to be a contract attorney. But much like learning not to share dirty needles, there are tricks for the best way to survive the legal underground.
I recently started a new project (yay money). It was accompanied by all the usual strum und drang — the seating chart, the log-ins, the deadline — typical but annoying stuff. I noticed that a buddy of mine was there. Well, at least it was someone I’d been on reviews with before who was distinctly not weird. When you’ve been on multiple projects with the same agency or vendor you start assembling a cast of “regulars,” and these people can be your lifeline during arduous projects. We start to reminisce about past projects like old war buddies and it strikes me.
I’ve been doing this too long.
Not just in a “what am I doing with my life” existential crisis kind of a way, but for at least the foreseeable future this IS my life. Like anyone in any position for a bunch of years I’ve amassed tips and tricks to get through the day, and can predict the general course of a project. So in celebration of the stalled nature of what I, laughingly, call my career, I present the 7 signs you’ve been doing document review too long…
* The Magic Circle isn’t very magical across the pond in New York City. Four out of five firms from the U.K. — Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Linklaters — have yet to pull rabbits out of their hats in the Big Apple. [Am Law Daily]
* Dewey know how much this failed firm’s old domain name sold for at auction? At the conclusion of the sale, it ended up going for $210,689, which was just a shade over the initial asking price of $200,000. Someone just got ripped off. [Law360 (sub. req.)]
* The judge on this case against Skadden Arps isn’t sure that document review should count as anything other than practicing law, “even if it’s not the most glamorous.” Ahh, the luxurious life of a contract attorney. [Am Law Daily]
* Professor Raymond Ku has filed an amended complaint against Case Western Law Dean Larry Mitchell, and now the allegations are even juicier, including a possible ménage à trois. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]
* The number of people who took the LSAT in October has dropped for the fourth year in a row, this time by 11 percent. “This is a big deal” for law professors interested in keeping their jobs. [National Law Journal]
I found today’s piece on contract attorneys interesting, given that I just attended an e-discovery CLE program run by a local firm (Ward Greenberg) last week. The program centered around the practicalities and ethics of e-discovery and the case law surrounding those topics.
I admit to being taken aback at how times have changed since I was utilizing an OCR viewer to review documents while searching for keywords to code. Those were the days. As mentioned in the contract attorney column, doc review was a sure way to meet and exceed billable-hour targets simply by doing essentially monkey work. And the firms were all too happy to bill me at out at hundreds of dollars per hour for looking over repetitive and duplicative documents.
Now that I am in-house, I would have a conniption fit if a firm tried to pull such a stunt — and I don’t think many firms would….
Contractors have been there before — an unnecessarily angry associate screaming at a room of temps muttering about when they were first-year associates. So what has got their panties in a bunch? Well, like most curmudgeons, it is change. The legal landscape is rapidly shifting, and one has to move with the tide or be swept away.
We frequently throw the term “Contract Attorney” around in this column, but there are a wide variety of tasks that are now considered contract work. As the tasks change, contractors encroach more and more on work traditionally thought of as an associate’s domain.
So what are the most typical contractor tasks, and how are they affecting the associates’ way of life?
Aw, that’s cute. You thought you’d see the inside of one of these when you graduated from law school.
Ed. note: Alex Rich is a contract attorney reviewing documents for meager pay so Biglaw attorneys don’t have to. Alex will be sharing some thoughts about the growing phenomenon of contract attorneys here on Above the Law.
The good old days.
That may not be a phrase you generally associate with being a contract attorney, but it did exist. $45 an hour. Overtime. Cars home. Meals expensed. In 2013 this seems chimerical, but it did exist. Now the industry is all $27/flat (or worse); no toilet paper; and mockable Craigslist pleas to unionize (because Cesar Chavez would totally have advertised/picketed alongside missed connections and ads for escorts in the 21st century).
I know there are partners or associates derisively reading this in an office somewhere with a door that actually closes feeling schadenfreude over the pain of contractors. I mean, contract attorneys are all TTT graduates who probably shouldn’t have gone to law school in the first place, moms who appreciate the scheduling “freedom” of temp work, or flaky wannabe actor/writer/comedians who can’t hold down the rigors of being a real lawyer. Right?
Earlier this week, we took a look at a contract attorney project in D.C. that has been making the contractors sad. I mean more sad than normal.
We received a lot of actually interesting comments (!) in the thread after the story, as well as emails giving us more details about the project. It appears that the staffing firm, Compliance, has taken some steps to ameliorate the poor working conditions for the contract attorneys. It also looks like the working conditions could actually be improved if they dropped a Port-a-Potty in the middle of the conference room.
But it’s not all bad. Sometimes speaking out can lead to improved working conditions. Let’s take another look at how the other half lives, and you know, scare the bejesus out of 2Ls doing OCI right now who are really hoping to get jobs….
We don’t do enough reporting about the struggles of contract attorneys. We should do more, because that’s where the jobs are. Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys. Getting one of these hourly wage jobs actually represents success in a market saturated with underemployed attorneys.
Now I remember why I don’t do a lot of reporting on contract attorneys: acknowledging that these, and not high-paying traditional associate salaried positions, are the jobs coming back in the “recovery” is terribly, terribly sad.
This might come as a shock to you, but being a document monkey on an hourly wage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. These hard-working people generally want to work as much as possible (kind of the opposite of traditional associates) for obvious reasons. But they are often frustrated by all sorts of bureaucracy and poor treatment in their quest to wring some value out of their J.D. degrees.
We have some emails detailing the struggles of one group of contractors working on projects in D.C. Hopefully, this will inspire other contract attorneys to share their experiences with “the new normal”….
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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 six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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