Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Strategically Unstrategic

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Total Black: $1,078.26
Total Red: $230,212.47

It’s looking like the contract attorney position could be ending soon, perhaps even by tomorrow.  So, the Woman Who Sits Next To Me provided me with contact information for other temporary legal staffing agencies.  She also suggested that I sign up with The Posse List, a website and blog that provides information for and about contract attorneys.  I emailed each contact and signed up with the list.  A few leads she provided paid-off already.  I have appointments tomorrow and then Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week.

Today I learned that there’s another document review project possibly starting next week, but it would be with a different agency.  It only pays $32 an hour, however.  Currently, I’m earning $40 an hour.  No overtime on either.  I know it seems insensitive or even callous to squawk about an eight dollar difference when minimum wage is only seven dollars an hour and people are still out of work or facing uncertainty in their unemployment benefits.  But the vast majority of people looking for minimum wage jobs don’t typically have the education debts that I have.  And it’s only proper, frankly, that professionals get paid more.  The assumption, whether correct or flawed, is that by going through college and graduate school, and getting licensed, you bring a level of skill and professionalism to you work and people want to pay for that caliber of training.  What’s even more infuriating, however, is that the temporary staffing agency can pay us at $32 an hour and bill the firm $150 an hour for the same time.  Contract attorneys, I’m learning, don’t even take home 50% of the profits they’re labor generates.  I’m afraid to work out the math, but I fear that it would put contact attorneys in the same ballpark as migrant farmers.  I’m exaggerating for emphasis, but you get my point.  To add insult to injury, the law firm may turn around and bill contract attorneys to their client at rates even higher still.  An article on the Posse List noted a ruling of a Connecticut federal trial judge who ruled it fair to pay contract attorneys $55 an hour but then calculate their hourly rate at $300 for purposes of determining the attorneys fees won against the other side.  What?!  So, forgive me if I squabble over an eight dollar difference.  For me, at this point, it’s significant.  Based on a forty hour work week, that’s $320 less each week—naturally before taxes.  That right there is one credit card payment a month.

The woman who sits next to me advises being a bit more strategic in making myself available for upcoming projects.  Once you take on a project, I’m learning, you’re pretty much on it for the duration.  Jumping ship to another project at a different agency is frowned upon.  It might mean that the bridge to the agency left in your wake is now burned to the ground.  And probably the relationship with the law firm as well.  Since I’m only visiting this world to get out of debt in a year, I suppose it wouldn’t matter too much if I left an agency once or twice to take on a higher-paying project.  But at this point, I don’t feel that I can I just pass up work in the hope that something better comes my way.  I don’t have any savings.  And I’m not yet current on bills, never mind being ahead.  Yes, it would be very disappointing to find out that if I only had waited a bit longer, I could be earning more money.  What comes to mind is stories of animals who nearly starved to death who subsequently gorge themselves on food out of that primal fear of not truly knowing when, or even whether, the next meal will come.

After a year of unemployment, I just don’t feel comfortable turning away a legitimate way to earn money.

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