As many websites and blogs (including ATL) mentioned last week, The New York Times published an article by Heather Timmons entitled “Outsourcing to India Draws Western Lawyers.” The quote above was from the blog Shilling Me Softly giving its take on the article. As you can probably discern from The Times headline, the piece was very favorable toward legal outsourcing taking place overseas…
India’s legal outsourcing industry has grown in recent years from an experimental endeavor to a small but mainstream part of the global business of law. Cash-conscious Wall Street banks, mining giants, insurance firms and industrial conglomerates are hiring lawyers in India for document review, due diligence, contract management and more.
Now, to win new clients and take on more sophisticated work, legal outsourcing firms in India are actively recruiting experienced lawyers from the West. And U.S. and British lawyers — who might once have turned up their noses at the idea of moving to India or harbored an outright hostility to outsourcing legal work in principle — are re-evaluating the sector.
Mumbai to 8,743,800 rupees? Not quite, not yet at least…
First, They Came For The Key Fobs, And We Said Nothing: Three Stories From Ill-Fated Contract AttorneysBy Gabe Acevedo
That may seem like a pretty random quote with which to begin a blog post, but trust me, it will soon make sense.
There has been a lot of chatter recently about contract attorneys and Biglaw. Some are finding themselves getting blacklisted left and right, which is not exactly breaking news in their corner of the e-discovery industry. Other contract lawyers are more resourceful, ahem, finding other gigs to support themselves. Earlier this week, there was another article about how contract attorneys are on the rise and how the pool of contract attorneys has never looked better.
Recently, however, between celebrating July 4th and our nation’s independence, knocking back a few Cuba Libres, and watching my beloved Argentine National Soccer Team completely self-destruct against the Germans, I was reminded of another aspect of being a contract attorney. (BTW, I say my Argentine National Soccer Team because my father is from Argentina. My mother was an American of Irish descent. Somehow, that makes me a Costa Rican. I know. I don’t get it either, but I digress.)
As a contract attorney, there are only two things the agency or firm you work with will definitively tell you: the day you start (and that’s not always so definitive) and the day you’re finished.
With that in mind, I decided to open a window into the world of contract attorneys and how they meet their fates in three separate instances. One I corroborated with several of my colleagues. Another I witnessed myself. Oh, and a third I am extremely familiar with, considering the attorney in question was me. Your feel-good post of the week awaits you, after the jump.
The recession has forced Biglaw firms to lay off some of the best and the brightest in the legal field. Many of these Biglaw refugees have wound up seeking out contract work (despite the long-term risks), and that means the pool of contract attorneys is mighty pretty right now. In-house legal departments have noticed and are taking advantage, reports the Legal Intelligencer (in an article we mentioned in the Holiday Docket yesterday).
In an ACC survey about the effects of the recession that we wrote about last week, 51% of in-house folks reported an increased workload last year. And staffing firms say that general counsel are looking to them to help out. Gina Passarella writes:
Project attorneys are a more viable answer to the budget problem in part because there are so many skilled lawyers out of work due to layoffs at AmLaw 200 firms and the consolidation of legal departments prior to the economic downturn, which led to cuts in those departments as well, [staffing firm owner James] LaRosa said.
“The pool of contract attorneys right now is exceptional,” he said.
A typical candidate right now would have experience at either an AmLaw 200 firm or a specialized boutique, and oftentimes will have law department experience as well.
The pool may be exceptional, but the pay is not. Will contract attorneys be as appealing once the economy bounces back and Harvard grads can get big-paying, Biglaw jobs again?
In a couple of months, the class of 2012 will embark on its quest to find an elusive Biglaw summer associate gig. But let’s not forget that many in the class of 2009 are still sitting on the sidelines, waiting to start.
Most of McDermott Will & Emery’s 2009 class has started already. But last week a few of the stragglers received some bad news. A tipster reports:
Just a heads up, McDermott Will & Emery rescinded offers to most of their deferred 2009 graduates on Wednesday via a phone call.
We reached out to MWE, and their spokespersons strongly disagree with characterization that offers to “most” of the deferred associates were rescinded….
Early last month, the former Pennsylvania lawyer was finally disbarred with consent (meaning that he can’t defend the charges against him). Why?
Well, first, he was once charged with attempted murder. However, that charge was later dropped, and he pleaded guilty to some misdemeanor assault charges. Hell, who hasn’t that happen to them at least once or twice?
Oh, and he also swindled a portion of a settlement away from one of his clients. So, thus far, he’s batting 2 for 2.
What really accelerated Lewis’s downfall from the law? Lance David Lewis may very well be one of the first e-discovery contract attorneys to be disbarred for his malfeasance on a document review project — or, better put, off of a document review project.
In nine months, Lewis managed to rake in nearly $80,000 for work he never performed, contracting at a law firm via a staffing agency. In this case, the staffing agency was HireCounsel, and the law firm was Pepper Hamilton.
So how was he able to pull this off? The Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Pennsylvania Bar lays this out in pretty excruciating detail….
Although the “Cravath System” has been declared dead for over a year now, this model of leadership has been on the rocks for much, much longer.
Over a century ago, millionaire lawyer Paul Drennan Cravath went out in search of the best and brightest young lawyers from the top law schools, paid them salaries, and mentored them in how to become great litigators. As an associate, you could stay at the firm as long as you were “promotable,” meaning that you had roughly eight years to make partner or you were out. The “Cravath System,” as it would eventually be called, was adopted by almost every major American law firm.
One could argue that part of the Cravath model’s destruction was due to the rise of legal technology. Yet one might also argue that legal technology will begin its rebirth.
We have linked in the past to Big Debt, Small Law. Like Third Tier Reality, which we linked to yesterday, Big Debt focuses on exposing what the writer sees as the fraud of American legal education and the legal profession more generally.
The bloggers behind these and similar sites — deeply bitter and angry, but often viciously funny — vent at length about non-elite law schools that lure in students with false promises of post-graduation job opportunities and six-figure salaries. Students at these schools take on six figures of educational debt, devote three years of their lives to law school, and then can’t find jobs when they graduate. If they’re “lucky,” they secure employment as contract attorneys, reviewing documents for $21 an hour — and even these temp attorney jobs are disappearing, thanks to outsourcing.
But Law Is 4 Losers, the author of Big Debt, Small Law, has his doubts. For the sake of balance, let’s look at his objections.
One casualty of the economic recession could well be the position of “staff attorney.” We’ve reported that Skadden and Covington & Burling have had major cuts to their staff attorney programs. Above the Law is now able to report that similar reductions have happened at Paul Weiss. Sources report that at least a dozen staff attorneys have been let go by Paul Weiss over the past couple of months.
UPDATE: We are now hearing reports that the number is significantly higher than a dozen, perhaps as high as 45 (since November 2008). “This can all be confirmed by the lawyer lists that are sent out at the start of each month,” said our source.
A tipster puts it this way:
PW has sneakily let go [a number of] staff attorneys. There have been … cuts in the past few months and it is getting more steady and consistent in the last few weeks. They are letting a few people go every week. It is so ridiculous that they haven’t told anyone what’s really going on and everyone is just waiting around for the call.
Apparently they need to cut all the staff attorneys so they have some work for 80 or so first years that just started who are already doing nothing but doc review and who should expect to be doing nothing but doc review for the foreseeable future. Some of these staff attorneys have been there for seven and eight years and they are not even offering severance. They say it has nothing to do with performance but are letting some of the good people go first.
Paul Weiss declined to comment for this story. But we understand that no associates have been let go.
Are junior associates the new “staff attorney”? More from our tipsters after the jump.
The world of contract attorneys isn’t our primary focus around here. We make occasional forays into that territory, but for the most part we leave it to more specialized sites, like Temporary Attorney (aka Tom the Temp).
If the temp-attorney world is your cup of tea, however, then check out this interesting new site, which several ATL readers have emailed us about: Big Debt, Small Law. We reached out to Law Is 4 Losers — the angry author, who still works as a contract attorney (he just finished a New York project for a large national law firm) — and asked him about the site’s origins. He explained:
I was prompted to start the blog for two reasons. First is the membership solicitation from the ABA asking me for $250 in dues and listing all the wonderful things that they’ve been doing of late to “improve” this profession (curiously, outsourcing my job to India via ethics opinion 08-451 was not among them).
Another reason was my recent NYS Law license renewal of $350. There was no waiver provision or extension for unemployed lawyers. [W]e contract attorneys have to pay health insurance, bar dues, CLE fees, and other obligations out of our own pocket. And at the $28 an hour straight-time now offered by NYC Biglaw (or the $40K small firms are paying), this is a hell of a lot of money. Forcing people to choose between their rent and their job is unconscionable….
I hope to warn incoming One L’s and prospective law students about the reality out there behind the slick admissions brochures and silver-tongued charlatan deans who will lie thru their teeth to get their hands on that Sallie Mae loan money. I’d also like to lobby the state bars to offer fee waivers or extensions on dues to unemployed lawyers who can prove financial hardship.
If you’re an associate and feeling sorry for yourself, perhaps because your pay has been cut or layoffs are taking place at your firm, Law Is 4 Losers doesn’t want to hear it:
Bad as things are for associates, they are 100 times worse for doc reviewers. We’ve been losing jobs every few weeks or months ever since leaving law school, having no “careers” to speak of, and also no health insurance, severance, or savings.
His most recent blog post — deeply depressing, but scabrously funny — describes the misery of temping at two of Biglaw’s biggest names: Paul Weiss and Sullivan & Cromwell. And he doesn’t pull his punches.