To An Anonymous Document Review

It’s not that he loves his job:

I could have been a contender instead of what I am, a document review attorney. (Twitter.)

Nor that he enjoys it:

What’s new in the contract attorney world? I hope you guys/ladies having a better time of it than me. (Twitter.)

It’s not just that it’s fulfilling:

The only reward for being the fastest doc reviewer is quicker unemployment for all involved. (Twitter.)

Nor that quality is prized over quantity:

Project in Hou requiring 400 docs an hr be reviewed. Guess not interested in quality. #ihatemylife #stoptheinsanity (Twitter—those hashtags say it all.)

He has very little good to say about his work.

But hey, at least he’s “practicing law.”

Okay, I’ll accept being called a jerk and an asshole. I’ve been called worse by better-adjusted people.

Let’s assume, arguendo, that contract document review is “practicing law.” And let’s pretend that none of India’s lawyers could work on (or learn to work on) a privilege log and deal with (or learn to deal with) the implications of the HITECH Act on HIPAA, so that this particular document review can’t be—as I say in the post that set him off—offshored.

So what?

If you’re “stuck having to work for Huron,” if you “have to deal with their crap,” if you #hateyourlife, if you can’t even take a couple of days off when a hurricane strikes, if you “could have been a contender,” if you’re treated like an expendable part for $35 an hour, who cares if you’re “practicing law”? Your legal career is a failure, and you know it. If you detect contempt in my posts about your contract document review work, it’s because you allow yourself to be degraded, then complain about the degradation. Would calling it “practicing law” put a shine on that particular turd?

The anonymous document reviewer writes this:

Forget about job fairs for young punks just out of school. How about somebody helping out us oldsters who got laid off? (Twitter.)

And this:

I’ve come to conclusion that if we’re going to do anything about it, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.  I just have no idea what.  If you’ve got suggestions, I’m listening.

Okay, I accept the invitation; I’ll give it a shot.

They will keep degrading you as long as you let them degrade you—as long as you need their $35 an hour—or until they get tired of you and find someone in Gurgaon to do the work for $12. The only thing you can do about it is to quit, to get off their hellish carousel of debasement.

But what then? Well, you have a law degree, and you are clearly capable of learning new areas of law. And there are ways to make a living without subjecting yourself to degradation—indeed, without an employer.

You want an example, you say?

There are thousands of people who need lawyers for one thing or another—family law cases, landlord-tenant disputes, consumer disputes—but can’t find competent counsel because the number of competent lawyers willing to work for $50 an hour is exceedingly small.

Representing people in such disputes is not glamorous—your fellow document reviewers might even call it “shitlaw”—and you’ll never get rich doing it right, but it’s a service to your fellow humans, and you can make a living while working for people who are grateful for your time and your service. Show some competence—hell, show some interest—in such cases, and I’ll spread your name far and wide to our fellow lawyers who would appreciate having someone to refer the small stuff to. Maybe it’ll even grow into something bigger, so that instead of just making a living, you’re a success.

And, as a special bonus, just for you, it’s inarguably “practicing law.”

11 responses to “To An Anonymous Document Review”

  1. I did a couple of doc review jobs while my main business was slow and I was surprised by the level of passivity and bitterness there.

    When I mentioned trolling traffic court for clients to one guy, he looked at me as if i had suggested shoveling poo.

    • There’s nothing wrong with passivity—sheep, as well as wolves, have their place in the world—and there’s nothing wrong with bitterness—if we all were content with our lots in life, there would never be revolution—but nobody should combine passivity with bitterness and expect me not to mock them.

      It’s funny, the lines that people draw: those who submit to daily humiliation in document review feel themselves above representing real human beings with real problems. It probably makes sense, in whatever hierarchy sheep observe.

      • Agreed.
        It’s funny. I’ve never practiced (as a full time job), but when things got tight a couple of years ago, I formulated a fall-back plan of trolling traffic court for clients (it was suggested by a friend). Although it didn’t come to that, it appealed to me better than most of the law my friends practiced. it was real personal service.

        • Trolling traffic court for clients doesn’t seem all that low when you consider that one alternative is doc review.

          Some traffic ticket lawyers in Houston make a cash killing.

  2. When I first moved to Baltimore I did doc review in D.C. for a couple of big firms. I met a bunch of interesting people and most of them were in transition, looking for work because they’d just moved to be with spouses, girlfriends, etc. or they just liked the vibe in DC and gave it a go. There were job interviews a plenty and we had a good time of it. We weren’t treated like kings and queens – oh no. But we all knew it was just a temporary gig and so we didn’t take it to heart. By the way, Mark, the going rate then was $35 bucks an hour.

    Fast forward 5 years. I am now ready to get back to work, our financial situation has deteriorated immensely and I thought hey, until I get my practice started, why not doc review? Well, the going rate is now well under 30 bucks and hour and they will make sure you are unemployed before they have to start paying you benefits. Here’s the craziest part – many many many temp firms want you to have been a doc review attorney for a period of YEARS before they will consider you. There are people who do this as their career. The vibe was different, people were dejected, people were discouraged. Coming back after a few years at home, I was shocked at all of it.

    But that’s the way it is now. The legal business has changed. Folks don’t want to hang out a shingle when they can get a pseudo steady paycheck,even if it’s 22 bucks an hour. What to do if there isn’t anyone at home who can pay the mortgage while you try to make a go of it?

    Whew, this is longer than most of my posts!

  3. Some traffic ticket lawyers in Houston make a cash killing.

    I’ve heard that. Seems that a fair number of folks are willing to roll the dice and gamble that a decent change of having $n spent on a lawyer plus $m spent on “court costs”* < $o spent fines plus increased car insurance fees.

    As a nonlawyer, it didn't sound even vaguely interesting to me, until I heard a lawyer friend who used to handle the other side of such things explain some of the dotted is and crossed ts necessary (at least hereabouts) for a legitimate speeding stop, and the very entertaining story (to me, at least) of how he got a client with 14 such issues pending (the guy had already blown two continuations in contemplation of dismissal; the prosecutor — understandably, IMHO — wanted him to spend at least some weekends in a more structured environment, if only to get his attention) in front of the judge with the charge on top being the one where he knew of at least a couple of uncrossed and undotted letters.

    The judge did a global-search-and-dismiss; the lawyer enjoyed winning in court, and the client ended up moving out of state, anyway.
    *At least, that's what the official bribe to the system is called here.

  4. Amen to the passive whiners who deserve to be mocked.
    I have worked for 2.5 yrs doing contract atty work on the West Coast. Most has been doing doc review. With the layoffs and firm closings, the caliber of colleagues has really gone up. I know work with interesting, smart, funny, professionals who I have never heard whine about the injustice of having to do doc review with their stellar backgrounds. Some do it because they can’t find anything else. Some do it because they are about to retire. Some do it so they can evenings and weekends off to do what they truly love (like surfing, running or even drinking).
    I think the whining must be an east coast thing–and now a Texas thang.

  5. Actually many Houston firms want actual licensed-in-the state-of-Texas lawyers for Doc Review. Some of us do it, upon occasion, because we enjoy it. We actually LIKE reading all the incredibly stupid and damning e-mails, memos and hidden cells in spreadsheets written by the clients of “real lawyers.” All the things assumed to have been deleted from the server, or the Blackberry, or the hard-drive. All those documents “real lawyers” advised their clients not to write, but, hey, they did anyway. The incriminating e-mails that caused their company to get in such dire straits that the “real lawyers” have to charge them $500/hr to defend.

    Some of us, upon occasion. even use the money we earn from Document Review to pay the legal fees of those of you have chosen other forms of legal work.

    It’s not for everyone. And obviously not for the poor sap on the Anonymous blog. But believe me, if they COULD farm what we do out to India, or monkeys, or prosecutors who didn’t get re-elected, they would.

    There but for the grace of God…ya know.

    • Those who have document review positions that they enjoy are, of course, not whining about it. They’re not even writing about it, choosing instead to surf, run, or travel the world drinking good wine.

      I consider myself appropriately chastised. I shouldn’t tar the entire field based on the complaints of whiners like the ADR.

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