Contract Attorneys

If your Facebook news feed is anything like mine, by now you’ve probably seen the Slate article encouraging people to “Apply to law school now!”, as well as Joe’s biting reply. The beef has gone back and forth. I’m not going to debate the job numbers; that’s been handled more than ably, and those who are willing to make an honest assessment of the job market already have.

Instead I am going to focus on the human cost of losing the law school lottery….

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We all know the job market is tough. Despite the somewhat optimistic take David has on the the latest NALP employment numbers, the reality of trying to find employment as a full-time attorney remains challenging. Maybe you’ve heard about contract attorney positions, but are not quite ready to take the plunge into the exciting, fast-paced world of document review. Maybe the temporary nature of the work doesn’t fit your lifestyle or perhaps you’re just putting off the inevitable plunge into the life of mindlessly clicking on documents for as long as possible.

So, what do you do? One unfortunate soul packed their pride away and applied for a state government paralegal position. But the status of the application will probably give you pause.

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It’s a baby and a briefcase! You know what that means: We’re talking about working moms and using stock images!

Whenever anyone (I’m guilty of it too) talks about the upside of working as a contract attorney, the word “flexibility” comes up within the first 10 seconds. When you have a job that is staggeringly boring that provides you with no job security you celebrate whatever advantages you can find, and the ability to take a day off whenever you’ve stopped giving a damn (and not be chained to a phone endlessly checking your email) is a boon. Sure, it might be because you are fungible and your employers has no investment in your career, but I’ll take the victories wherever I can find ‘em.

But is the level of flexibility contract attorneys enjoy something you can depend on, and really create a schedule around? Say, if you’re a working parent?

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Starting a new job is never easy. That’s especially true when you’re looking to enter the world of document review. No one has ever gone to law school saying, “And when I’m done with this incredible investment of time and money, I’ll get to mindlessly click through documents!” We all thought we’d be arguing in front of the Supreme Court, or helping the less fortunate, or wheeling and dealing a big-time deal. But reality, she’s a harsh mistress. And student loans have got to be paid. So you make peace with the prospect of being a contract attorney.

Now what?

As it turns out some loyal readers of this column are staring down the prospect of starting a sure-to-be-rewarding career as a contract attorney, and there are questions….

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Puff, puff, pass those voter initiatives.

* This failed firm’s drama is the Biglaw gift that keeps on giving: Dewey & LeBoeuf’s bankruptcy trustee filed an amended complaint against Steve DiCarmine and Joel Sanders seeking the return of more than $21.8 million. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Norton Rose Fulbright elected someone who “love, love, love[s] the law firm” as U.S. managing partner, and she’s the first woman to ever serve as U.S. chair of its management committee. We love, love, love this news! [National Law Journal]

* According to a California judge, tenure laws are unconstitutional and are depriving students of the high quality of education they deserve. The end is nigh, law professors. Enjoy it while it lasts. [New York Times]

* Not all states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but it’d be a lot cooler if they did. The tide is turning across the United States, and we’ll soon see which states’ drug laws go up in smoke. [Slate]

* “Document review attorneys are in demand now but the demand will gradually decrease.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the one job you were able to get soon won’t need or want you. [InsideCounsel]

Well sports fans, its that time again. The once-every-four-years glory that is the World Cup is nearly upon us. And unlike the other prominent, quadrennial sporting event, the Olympics, this won’t be packaged into digestible and heartwarming primetime clips. No, the meat of this event — the stuff you don’t want to miss — will be smack dab right in the middle of the work day. Right when you are supposed to be coding documents.

By their very nature, temporary jobs, such as contract attorney positions, are less secure than full-time work. Case managers don’t even need a reason to cut you from a project, so keeping up with the beautiful game requires a little more savvy….

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Sometimes I wonder if I have been giving the document review world a bad reputation, or at least a one-sided one. Sure, I have written about the gloom and desperation of document review, but, in reality e-discovery is more complex than that. Full-time work isn’t the chimera it once seemed, there is a growing market for full-time employment in the document review space, whether it’s working at a law firm as a discovery attorney, working for a vendor as a project manager or doing any one of the multitude of jobs rolled into the title of “staff attorney.”

The opportunities are definitely out there, the question is, should you take the job?

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I often feel like the old guy at the end of the bar regaling his whiskey glass with tales of the old days. But the reality is the business of document review is changing fast. The first step was taking the reviews that used to be done by associates for hundreds of dollars an hour and making them the near exclusive purview of contract attorneys. Even then you’d see contract attorneys under the same roof as the associates and there was a sense of hands-on monitoring as the attorneys working on the case would have interactions with the poor plebes reviewing their documents. But those days are waning.

Much like InfiLaw’s takeover of law schools, big business is taking over doc review….

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From the Southern District of New York there is an update in William Henig’s overtime lawsuit against Quinn Emanuel. For those of you that haven’t been following this case closely, Henig is the contract attorney-cum-plaintiff suing Quinn for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York State law claiming the document review work he was hired to perform does not amount to the practice of law. It seems the discovery dispute between the parties has finally been resolved, but not before some good, old-fashioned litigation name calling.

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“Hold on, I have to apply for this job.”

I never practiced law in the good old days when document review consisted of boxes, each one of which would take a week to review. By today’s standards that level of productivity is likely to get you fired. Discovery is taking up the biggest chunk of corporate legal budgets and anything to mitigate those costs is considered a win. We all know this is where ediscovery vendors and contract attorneys have made their nut, coming in when a terabyte of data needs to be reviewed as inexpensively as possible. This is how the practice of law becomes a business and with that shift in dynamic, customer service has become as important as legal judgments.

Given this backdrop it is no surprise that when a client says “jump,” staffing agencies reply, “how many contract attorneys would you like to do that for you?”

So what crazy demands are being made of document reviewers?

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