Document Review

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….

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Danger, Biglaw Associates!

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?

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Aw, that’s cute. You thought you’d see the inside of one of these when you graduated from law school.

Ed. noteAlex 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?

Wrong….

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Contract attorney heaven.

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….

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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”….

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They’re exploiting the prestige of the profession to screw a lawyer out of his rightful wages. I think there’s a general sense that if we’re a law firm and we’re doing it, then it’s legal.

– New York plaintiffs’ lawyer D. Maimon Kirschenbaum, in remarks made about his latest client’s Fair Labor Standards Act suit against Skadden Arps and Tower Legal Staffing. This is the third FLSA suit filed by Kirschenbaum in which a plaintiff claims that document reviewers are entitled to overtime pay due to the routine nature of the work.

(Keep reading for additional details about Kirschenbaum’s prior suits, and to see the latest complaint, replete with the truth on the horrors of doc review.)

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* Awesome event last night in Houston. Met tons of great readers and am looking forward to another trip to visit you all. Thanks to Hearsay Gastro Lounge for hosting us! [Hearsay Gastro Lounge]

* And for those who weren’t there, we introduced our new sibling blog, Breaking Energy. So check it out if you’re interested in coverage of the energy sector. If you’re not following the energy sector, you are missing the future. [Breaking Energy]

* By the way, “Accidental Racist” was TOTALLY ON PURPOSE RACIST. [Thought Catalog]

* I mean, zombies ARE scary. [Volokh Conspiracy]

* Should you take a document review job? My quibble with this post is the stance that some people don’t love contracting for document review. I know TONS of folks who have opted for these gigs so they can travel, raise a family, etc. [Constitutional Daily]

* “Vagueness in legal threats is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.” Y U Hate Biglaw? [Popehat]

* Really interesting follow-up on Reinvent Law. I have no joke here. It’s just interesting, so get off my back. [Adam Smith, Esq.]

* In honor of our law school video chat series, here’s another, simpler way to talk to new law school admits. [UChiLawGo]

* The fastest way to my heart is a compliment. And the best part of this job is that I can’t get a big head because the commenters keep me grounded by hurling invective at least two to one for each compliment. [Law and More]

The Internet naturally devolves to Hitler references. Call it Godwin’s Law. Call it reductio ad hitlerum if you’re into the whole unnecessary use of Latin thing (and you’re lawyers, so you totally are). But with the advent of the Internet, Downfall video became inevitable.

And with bored lawyers seeking Internet-based distractions at their desks (or law library carrels), the legal Downfall video was even more inevitable.

Above the Law has linked to some of these before (for example here and here), but I figured I’d treat the readers to a collection of some of the finer videos here as part of my role as the editor covering the tech beat.

If you have others, link them in the comments. I’m sure someone out there in the middle of a two-week document review somewhere will appreciate it….

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‘If only I had an eDiscovery solution for compliance and discovery requests to efficiently manage, identify, analyze, and produce potentially responsive information from a single, unified platform. Of course, it would be hosted in a private, cloud-based environment.’

While technology has reduced costs for many areas of legal practice (e.g., research), the centrality of electronically stored information to complex civil litigation has sent discovery costs skyrocketing. Hence the rapid proliferation of e-discovery vendors like so many remoras on the Biglaw shark. Nobody seems to know how large the e-discovery market is — estimates range from 1.2 to 2.8 billion dollars — but everyone agree it’s not going anywhere. We’re never going back to sorting through those boxes of documents in that proverbial warehouse. New amendments to the FRCP specifically dealing with e-discovery became effective way back in December 2006, but if the e-discovery vendors (evangelists?) at this week’s LegalTech tradeshow are to be believed, we are only in the technology’s infancy in terms of its development and impact on the legal profession.

At LegalTech, we attended a “supersession” presented by e-discovery provider Planet Data, promising to present “judicial, industry, legal, and media perspectives on where legal technology is taking litigation and how it affects you.” Don’t be jealous….

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I reported several weeks ago that I had been solicited to write an article about the future of Biglaw firms. But it was actually better than that: The invitation came from the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times, which is a pretty cool place to ask you to write.

Unfortunately, and apparently unbeknownst to the editor of the “Sunday Review” section, the Times ran a “DealBook” section on the fate of large law firms before my ditty could appear in print. This preempted my article (or at least that’s what the editor said, although maybe she was just sparing my feelings). So instead of having a piece in the NYT, I’m just another schlub typing away at Above the Law.

But if I took the time to write a 1,200-word piece on the future of big law firms, then I’m sure as heck going to get some use out of it. So here you are: “The Assault on Biglaw,” by yours truly, which damn near appeared in the Sunday Times….

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