Contract Attorneys

Is it legal work? That is the outstanding question in the world of document review, and it is one we have covered before. Well, it is hard not to. The cases being litigated to determine whether or not document review is actually the practice of law are likely to have profound effects on the modern practice of law.

If doc review is not the practice of law then there is, of course, the question of overtime, which is the point of the ongoing cases. If the exemption that legal work has from local overtime laws does not to apply to document review then the back OT pay will certainly make contract attorneys happy, but may have other unintended consequences. Opening this Pandora’s box may result in the document review market opening to non-lawyers, who without staggering law school debt may well be willing to accept even less money for the same work.

This question may define the work of a generation of lawyers, but is it worth losing your job over?

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If you’ve spent any amount of time doing document review I know you’ll find this scenario familiar.

An associate gathers the reviewers around for “feedback,” a simple word that drips with derision. You’d think the associate might actually be a 13-year-old girl told they can’t go to the mall there are so many eye rolls and sighs peppered through this allegedly constructive conversation. The crime you and your fellow doc reviewers stand accused of? Not properly applying one of the 15 issue tags to responsive documents. The horror. Never mind you are being asked to code 100+ documents an hour on a computer system that whines and chugs along at the effort of moving between docs. There is apparently a standard of perfection on this project and you and your fellow inmates have failed to make the grade.

This goes beyond the simple horrible boss phenomenon. But what is it about document review that seems to draw this ire?

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Who says she’s not a career woman? This is ‘Biglaw partner leaving Ken for her paralegal’ Barbie.

* With the impossible body ideal of Barbie gracing the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Cover, perhaps we should consider the positives that Barbie has contributed to women over the years. Missing is the rare, vacuous “math class is tough” Barbie. [The Careerist]

* A five-year-old writes the cutest response to the IRS. [TaxProf Blog]

* Professor busted for taking upskirt pics. His defense? How else was he going to prove the girls weren’t wearing underwear? Touché. Touché. [The Smoking Gun]

* The reasons to quit your Biglaw job. Now in listicle form! [Buzzfeed]

* The Supreme Court has a chance to take a stand against prosecutorial misconduct. Will they take it? [The Atlantic]

* If you’re violating your probation, be sure to videotape it and post it on YouTube. There’s no way your probation officer will see it. [IT-Lex]

* More insight into the world of contracting and America’s emerging economic model. [Law and More]

* On April 11-12, 2014, the Marquette University Law School will hold a symposium entitled “Judicial Assistants or Junior Judges: the Hiring, Utilization and Influence of Law Clerks.” Our own David Lat will be there, along with such luminaries as Judge Posner, Judge Sykes, Joan Biskupic, and Tony Mauro. [Marquette University Law School]

The invisible hand of the market makes fools of us all. No, I am not about to launch into a screed blaming capitalism for all of my woes, I’ll leave that to the PhDs desperately seeking tenure track jobs. The reality remains that the ups and downs of the legal market have a large effect on the rank and file document reviewer.

I’ve written before about the ways regional markets can wreak havoc on contract attorney, but it’s more than just dragging down the hourly wage. Without the benefit of full-time employment, contract attorneys are seen as eminently disposable and are rarely provided with much (or any) notice before a change in their employment status. Projects are scheduled that never start or a month-long project suddenly ends in two days. It can happen at any time, it’s the nature of the business (God, if I had a dollar for every time that annoying trope was trotted out by a staffing agency or project manager to cover for their poor management skills, well, I wouldn’t have to review documents any more). But over time, as long term projects fail to materialize it becomes a reflection of the overall health of that market.

According to our tipster, what document review market is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2014?

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So… stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Man sues staffing agency and Biglaw firm for overtime — because document review isn’t really legal work. Man then applies to the EXACT SAME STAFFING AGENCY for more document review work — touting all his legal experience reviewing documents.

Staffing agency then requests sanctions.

Maybe it isn’t the classic tale of boy meets girl, but it is pretty entertaining. Though it’s not as convoluted as it may sound. Find out all the details, and which Biglaw firm was dragged into this suit after the jump…

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Well, it’s mid-February. You know what that means. It’s not just the sure-to-be-awkward ATL Valentine’s Day mixer. Stores are crammed with mid-level chocolate, Made-in-China teddy bears, and overpriced flowers. That can only mean one thing. Love, like the wintery mix the east coast is expecting, is in the air. This phenomena is so universal that even folks locked in a document review space for 60 hours a week are not immune.

In fact, it is even more prevalent in the isolated spaces of document review….

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I’ve recently realized I do a lot of complaining. Maybe it’s hard not to. This column has given me a terrific forum to… well, complain about a lot of the things I think are wrong in the world of document review. Maybe it’s a screed about horrible bosses or how the reviewer next to me seems allergic to using tissues. I regret nothing.

Venting and getting it all out there has been cathartic and the response from you the readers has been vindicating. But, I am trying to be a little more zen about the legal profession and my small role in it.

It’s an imperfect science, and I am still working on it, but here are some tips for loving doc review….

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There has been no lack of digital ink detailing some of the… shortcomings that lawyers have as managers. I know, it isn’t your fault, no one ever taught you any different. But you know that old expression, sh*t only rolls in one direction? Well, contract attorneys are at the very bottom of the legal profession so we see plenty of it heading in our direction.

The structure of any given document review project may vary, so it may be hard to tell initially who is the “boss”. You may even have 8 bosses. Usually though, the small modicum of power they wield over a room of document reviewers just trying not to get hassled becomes obvious. It might be an associate from a law firm or they may have handed management of the project over to a staff attorney, there may be an intermediary from the staffing agency running the day-to-day operations of the project, or perhaps there is a document review management company involved trying to cut costs and justify its existence. It doesn’t really matter which particular structure exists on the project you are working on, the same types of bosses seem to exist everywhere.

So which kind of horrible boss are you working for?

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Congratulations on joining the lost generation of attorneys!

Life can be strange sometimes. When I started writing this column I had a few expectations of what I might encounter. A few gossipy scandals, some crazy tales from document review projects, and one or two commenters encouraging me to commit suicide. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least not for the pages of ATL.

But I never planned on being an advice columnist. Dear Abby I am not. However, years of being a contract attorney have taught me to roll with the punches. And if a reader emails in looking for advice, then dispense advice I will.

So how do you get started as a contract attorney?

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Email. In the last 20 years it has gone from office novelty to a ubiquitous mainstay of our daily lives. I am not complaining about this; the explosion of email is part of what has fed the growth of document review. Everytime you hit send, a new document is created and a contract attorney gets their wings.

And, oh, the fun of email! Of course there are jokes and forwards, all of which are designed to be entertaining, but there are so many other enjoyable aspects of the medium. Such as the firm-wide screed of a recently terminated document review attorney.

So what Biglaw firm was treated to an angry missive from a fired doc reviewer?

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