Contract Attorneys

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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* Are you a judge or former judge interested in being on television? All you have to do is move into some quasi-Survivor commune. Who would be the best jurist to send out there? I’d say Thomas so he can just stare at everyone silently and offer no assistance. [LawSites Blog]

* Law students fight to get an immigrant lawyer admitted to the bar over 100 years later. Just what California needs. Another lawyer. [UC Davis News & Information]

* Speaking of California needing more lawyers, California law schools are reaching out to community colleges to find students who saved on their undergraduate education and might be willing to start taking on some serious debt. [SF Gate]

* The State of Texas has intervened in a legal brawl between two breweries over the use of the Alamo. One more liberal government trying to take over the free market. [Brewery Law Blog]

* Professor John Banzhaf has an interesting suggestion regarding the death penalty: why are we still using injections anyway? [PR Log]

* Most people shouldn’t sue just because they can: a commentary on Alex Rich’s recent piece. [Law and More]

* More feedback on the ATL Top 50. [Most Strongly Supported]

* “Tacoma needs a law school like I need a hole in the head.” Exactly. [Post Defiance]

* The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education took a big step toward invalidating their own name by approving the sale of Charleston to Infilaw. By the way for comedy’s sake, attached below is a screenshot of the Google News alert I got on this story…. [The State]

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Lots of people in lots of professions believe they are underpaid. Teachers, nurses, McDonalds employees all have strong arguments as to why they should be paid more than they are. But the stark difference between the hourly wage a document reviewer makes and the amount the firm charges for that work — even when you account for all of the overhead costs — is enough to make anyone vexed. When the group of people you are annoying is a bunch of lawyers with too much time on their hands… well then you get lawsuits.

I think we officially have a trend here. We’ve covered other lawsuits by contract attorneys trying to make their nut. And while previous cases have tested the question of whether document review is actually legal work (and therefore exempt from overtime regulations) this latest suit has a more novel approach…

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If I spend time reminiscing about the wayback times — all the way back to when I was a summer associate — I am reminded that one of the benefits of litigation (at least as described to me by an older associate nearly a decade ago) was supposed to be that it was recession proof. Meaning that just when the deals that characterize good economic times were slowing down that was when the real litigation would begin. So you’d be busy with new cases created by deals gone bad while your friends that joined corporate departments would find themselves without work to do at the same time a firm might be looking to make some cuts.

Now that didn’t prove quite true — when it’s time for Biglaw to do layoffs, litigation personnel find themselves as much at risk as every other department. But it is accurate that we do see an uptick in litigation after bad economic events. After all, it was only about two years ago when nearly every document reviewer or contract attorney found themselves on cases dealing with residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). Yes, those same deals that nearly crippled the economy spawned massive litigation that kept food on my table. It didn’t matter what firm, agency or even city you worked for/in all the big document review projects seemed to be about RMBS. Now that that boom is nearly over we are left to wonder — what questionable business practice will lead to tomorrow’s doc review boom?

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at Walmart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”

Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.

There’s a phrase, “the Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless, and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.

Weirdly, the same phenomenon — the Downward Drift — affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees…

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