Wait: “Temporary Attorney” is a Career?


National Law Journal (H/T Omar Ha-Redeye)notes the decline of business for contract attorneys:

As law firms downsize, laid-off attorneys and new law school graduates unable to find jobs have been turning to an option they may never have imagined at law school: becoming contract attorneys — hired guns [or, more aptly, cannon fodder] for $35 an hour.

Yet in the past couple of months, even that field appears to be showing signs of a slowdown.

There’s discontent among the drones in the document review hives:

Contract attorneys appear a discontented lot. A host of blogs have popped up railing about life as a contract attorney, including Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition; [Houston-based] Document Review, Texas Style; Black Sheep of Philly Contract Attorneys; and My Attorney Blog: The Life of a Contract Attorney in Temp Town, Washington D.C.

Resounding with complaints about working conditions at temp agencies — including cockroaches and a lack of air conditioning — nosediving fees and tax nightmares, as well as advice about which agencies to avoid, the blogs do not paint a pretty picture of life as a contract attorney.

Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition, the ABA Journal’s top “Careers” blog, has posts on the unemployment office, a resolution to “expose the ABA as a fraud” (duh), having to compete with unlicensed foreigners, attorneys cancelling family Christmas plans to take a contract (in the best tradition of the Harris County DA’s Office), only to be fired three days later, how the ABA is killing document reviewers, and the lamentation that “These people really know to exploit the suffering of a desperate economic situation” (no, they know how to exploit pathetic wannabe lawyers with no initiative), as well as lots of other copy that should make Harris County’s ADAs ecstatic to be practicing law even though they don’t get paid more for working more. Oh, and Temporary Attorney’s readers see themselves as discussing “the plight of the vast majority of today’s law grads” (I doubt it, but if so, college students should be staying away from law school in droves).

So has the contract attorney business slowed down because lawyers have read the blogs and realized what a crappy job it is? Because young lawyers have grown a backbone and demanded employment worthy of the effort they put into their education? Because law schools have stopped grinding out more lawyers than society can provide with meaningful work? Because the new generation of lawyers chooses, instead of document review for BigLaw in roach-infested basements for $35 an hour and no benefits, to do honorable work like robbing banks or creative work like painting stripes on highways?

Pshaw. While there’s discontent among the drones, there’s delusion as well:

Despite the fact that he has to buy his own health insurance, Hopwood said he enjoys the work. He says the pay — somewhere between $35 to $45 an hour — can translate into six figures for hard workers.

Never mind the twisted math necessary to translate $45 an hour as a contract employee with no benefits into six figures worth of actual employment: people actually want these jobs!

No, the slowdown isn’t on the labor side, but the management side. There’s a slowdown in the contract attorneying business (please don’t call it “lawyering” — it is to lawyering what the game “Operation” is to surgery) because the economy sucks, because the administration is changing, and because the work these attorneys do can be offshored to India.

Here’s a rule for the 21st century: if your work can be offshored, it will be. Document reviewers, you’re going to have to find something else to do; maybe you could learn to practice law.

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0 responses to “Wait: “Temporary Attorney” is a Career?”

  1. IMO, law schools would provide a lot more value to their investors.. umm students, if they taught them how to properly use a computer and the Internet to manage their practices. Seems to me that old school billable ‘lawyering’ rates are gonna continue to plummet, as more hungry, tech-savvy grads flood the legal arena and hang up their own shingle. Young solo lawyers, who offer REAL value to their clients, have very bright futures.

    With respect to ‘offshore’ legal outsourcing, which vendors are firms using most? And what services are these offshore vendors being asked most to provide?

  2. It cut off my other comment oddly, but Doc review seems the perfect career for those folks who care not for the law or representing folks and went to law school because they either didn’t want to grow-up and/or realized a philosophy degree is good for wiping your ass, but only once.

    • . . . less $15k in self-employment taxes that would, if you were employed, be paid by your employer, less another $5k (at least) for health insurance that would , if you were employed, be paid by your employer, less contributions to your retirement account that would be paid by your employer.

      I’m not knocking being self-employed, but $100,000 in contract pay is a lot less money than $100,000 in employee wages.

  3. Thanks for clarifying all the deductions for me; I’ve only been self-employed since 1993. I’m not sure how much salary an employee has to make to put $100,000 on the credit side of his balance sheet in one year, but it’s obviously more than six figures too. More to the point, the number of jobs that pay more than $100k is razor thin. If someone wants to make six figures in raw income (before payroll taxes, insurance, and so on) he’s a lot more likely to succeed as a contract attorney than as an ADA 1.

      • Clarification on the salary/self-employment tax issue. Every placement agency I have worked for as a contract attorney has hired me as an employee. Thus they pay taxes/SSI on my salary. The 6 figure claim is a little delusional, though. Projects do not last years on end, there is almost always a lag between gigs. I am doing contract work, professing and very odd jobs and have not cracked 6 figures. And I work at $40/hr. I do make double what I did as a full-time, tenure-track college professor.

  4. Mark

    Not everyone who graduates from law school has the skill set to be a trial lawyer or the intestinal fortitude to put up with all the bullshit that goes along with any type of private practice.

    I think it’s rather a shame that temporary attorney has to be a career for some. However, like JCool said, those philosophy degrees aren’t worth a whole lot of money.

  5. I agree that not everyone who graduates from law school has the skill set to be a trial lawyer but it has not detracted many from trying… I am starting to see a bunch of new faces in the courtrooms and as I watch them fumble along it reminds me of the days when I was first started making appearances as a PD. Only difference is that these people are practicing without a safety net and making our jobs alot harder.

    Because these people lack the intestinal fortitude to put up with all the bull, they are having their clients take deals that they really shouldn’t. This in turn makes the ADA’s think that they are being overly generous with those of us who have been here a while and they are now trying to pull this crap on us!!!

    The only positive side of all this is that my trial docket is filling up with cases that have an actual chance of acquittal!!! YAY for me!!! And who ever referred to contract attorney’s as “hired guns” is clearly not a trial lawyer!!! Doc review, while a inevitable part of the legal practice is much more like farm work or tending to the chickens!!!

    • Well instead of watching them fumble along, perhaps you should assist them. I am quite sure that no one who graduates from law school has the skill set to be a trial lawyer off bat ( including you). I see new prosecutors bout as often as I see new defense attorneys. New prosecutors who are itching to try everything, start way high, etc. so who really is making your job harder?
      Try being a young fumblers safety net for the week. Perhaps you can unlock their hidden trial skills that have been suppressed by the many hours of document review!

  6. Well Remy

    Yeah, there are hunters and then there are farmers. You’re right the farmers shouldn’t try to be hunters. Some people just don’t have rational views of where they fall in that spectrum.

  7. I certainly find it hard to believe that the “vast majority” of new lawyers are doomed to document review hell.

    I also don’t believe in unemployed lawyers – If you are admitted to the bar and you want to work, then there is work for you to do. It may not be big money/high profile trial or corporate work, but a young lawyer can make a respectable living taking small PI cases, appointed cases from juvenile courts, uncontested divorces, doing real estate closings, and so on until she is able build her practice up.

  8. The fantasy- go to law school, make $200k a year, become a trial rock star like all those TV lawyers.

    The reality- We have more than enough law schools, which provide more than enough lawyers to meet demand. The law schools raise tuition in lock step with government student loan guarantees. That leaves new lawyers with huge debt and bleak job prospects. Finally, to complete the Big Law fiefdom real world skills are verboten in law school curriculum. Status quo firmly in tact, new attorneys compete for any job available and spend time doing mindless legal busy work.

    Temporary Attorney should be required reading for 1ls, along with “The World Is Flat” by Friedman. Every job that isn’t bolted down in America is going to India.

  9. I plan on making a comfortable living by picking up whatever falls off of Mark’s table 🙂 Until I can afford my own table of course

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