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.