I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.
Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.
Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.
Career services. They are the unsung heroes of the law school experience. Though they only ever appear in our pages when there is a massivescrew up (or an ice bucket challenge), they assist countless law students get those coveted jobs — oh and tweak those valuable employment statistics.
With so much riding on the success of that department — for both the law school and the individual students — it is understandable when career services get a little… creative in their presentation. And as hard as your run-of-the-mill career services professional may work, the level of difficulty is jacked up to hero mode when you work at a TTT law school….
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….
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?
* After losing before the Supreme Court, the University of Texas affirmative action admissions program looked to be in serious trouble. But the Fifth Circuit just ruled that the UT policy met the strict-scrutiny analysis mandated by the Court. The lesson for Abigail Fisher is once more, “How about you get better grades instead of whining?” Or at least “Get politically connected.” [Chronicle of Higher Education]
* Apple agrees to a conditional $450 million settlement with the NYAG’s office in the e-book suit. So you might get some money back from the 50 Shades of Grey purchase. [Reuters]
* The Manassas city police have decided not to engage in kiddie porn pursuant to a warrant. Good for them. [Washington Post]
* “Judges are not deities. They are humans.” Let’s not tell Lat, the shock might kill him. [Katz Justice]
* The hell? Parents arrested for letting their 9-year-old go to the park alone? Suffocating parenting is bad enough without the government expecting it of parents. [Slate]
* CPAs are suing the IRS because the regulation of tax preparers lacks Congressional approval. Because we need more folks off the street claiming to be tax preparers. [TaxProf Blog]
* Lawyer and former South Carolina GOP executive director Todd Kincannon is under investigation by the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel for basically being a dick on Twitter. As Ken White notes, the First Amendment is all about giving guys like this a forum. [Slate]
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?
* Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes took advantage of Washington state law and purchased himself some legal pot yesterday, making him the highest-profile lawyer in the country. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
* DC Comics blocked plans to build a memorial to a murdered 5-year-old Superman fan dressed in costume. Realizing that this was awful and stupid, they’ve reversed themselves. [Gawker]
* New York Justice Roger Barto said he was attacked and beaten with a toilet seat. The police disagree. [WHAM]
* Laurence Tribe recounting his experiences with a young Barack Obama. [Fiscal Times]
* Remember when Justice Scalia screwed up that decision and quietly edited it hoping we wouldn’t notice? Well the days of the secret editing of SCOTUS opinions are over. [CREW]
* The continuing coverage of the Donald Sterling trial: Sterling takes the stand. [mitchell epner]
* We talk a lot about work-life balance among lawyers, but we don’t think much about the work-life balance among law professors. [TaxProf Blog]
* If you wanted to understand the UK legal market, this infographic is basically “choose your own adventure” for a legal career across the pond. [Gorvins]
Jiminy jillickers! ATL editors are going all over the place over the next month or so. Or at least all over the Eastern Seaboard. If we aren’t heading to your neck of the woods on these trips, never fear, we may hit you up on the next time around. We’ve already hit up Houston, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the past year.
Kinney Recruiting’sEvan Jowers is currently in Hong Kong for client meetings and still has a few slots available through October 22. Evan will also be in Hong Kong November 14 to December 15. Further, Robert Kinney has been in Frankfurt and Munich this week and is available for meetings with our Germany based readers.
One of our key law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.
Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.
This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the Asia in-house team. The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US. The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.
The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.
It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or partner level. Of course, the candidate can be currently in a relevant in-house role.
The JOBS Act created new tools for companies to publicly advertise securities deals online. As a result, thousands of new deals have hit the market and hundreds of millions in capital has been raised, spurring a wealth of new business development opportunities for attorneys.
Fund deals, startup capital raises, PIPE deals and loan syndicates are just a handful of the transactions benefiting from the JOBS Act. InvestorID FirmTM is a platform designed to help attorneys equip their clients with the workflow, marketing and compliance tools to publicly solicit a securities offering online. By providing clients with the tools to painlessly navigate the regulatory landscape of general solicitation, InvestorID FirmTM helps attorneys add value above just legal services.
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) went into effect in 2013 and permits Regulation D offerings of securities to be advertised publicly. This means that funds and companies can now use social media, emails and web sites to market transactions to new “accredited” investors.
However, with these new powers come new pain points. InvestorID FirmTM provides a secure, fully hosted, cloud-based platform with a breadth of tools for your clients, including: