Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Working Late

with 9 comments

Total Black: $227.70
Total Red: $226,634.40

I’m reminded of days (or should I say nights) as an associate at the law firm.  I’m working late again tonight and I need to be in early tomorrow for a meeting.  (Do contract attorneys attend meetings?)  Pressure is increasing as the pace picks up, but so is responsibility.  I’m handling more and more substantive tasks.  The only drawback to it all is that once the project ends, I won’t really have anything to show for my time except a paystub.

Contract attorneys can’t use law firm associates as references, generally speaking.  I couldn’t have a prospective employer call the temporary attorney staffing agency to ask about me or my work performance because laws firm don’t give feedback or reviews to the agencies.  The agency might be able to speak about me as an individual—their impression of me, but they wouldn’t have anything substantive to pass along like “he’s dedicated” or “hard-working “or “a really bright young man.”  It’s really an odd system.

As attorneys, we’re professionals.  Whether all or some or most contract attorneys comport themselves as professionals is a separate discussion.  But the practice of law is a licensed profession so that makes lawyers professionals.  Therefore contract attorneys are professionals as well.  Yet the contract attorney field is set-up almost like a blue-collar job: we fill-out timesheets, we clock in and out for breaks and lunch, we get paid by the hour.  Blogs are full of tales of vicious associates firing a few contract attorneys to “send a message” to the rest that they’d better not goof off.  And we must report in each day to huge open spaces.  If we’re sick or will be late, we’ve expected to—err—required to call in.  If my mother ever saw where I work, her heart would probably break.  It probably looks much like the factory she toiled away in to build a better life for me.

Last week while I was home sick I watched “The Apartment” with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.  The contract attorney I referenced in Survivor Guilt had suggested it to me back in January when we first began the project I’m currently on.  Aside: he also shared stories of when he worked as a project manager and either did the message firings I mentioned above or suggested them as a strategy to the associates he had been brought on to assist; funny that he was the first one cut from this project, eh?  Anyway, the first few shots of “The Apartment” reveal a vast office floor in Manhattan.  I was startled to see how similar the workspace of 1960 is to that of the contract attorney now.  The only difference is that at computer replaced the typewriter and we don’t get a desk all to ourselves.  If you’ve never seen a temporary attorney staffing agency’s space.  This picture pretty much hits the nail on the head.

I’m not looking to squawk with the chicken or her egg as to which came first: temp attorneys being treated like irresponsible adults to which they eventually conceded or temp attorneys needing to be monitored and supervised and thus resulting in the standard operating procedures mentioned above.  But change is coming and anyone needing to be a part of the contract attorney world, or wanting to, should start thinking about how best to begin reforming the industry.  An article on the Posse List, a blog servicing the contract attorney world, noted the harsh and bitter truth: “the problem is that for the majority of contract attorneys the bulk of their work is not substantive legal advice but highly structured/repetitive functions such as document review, research tasks and processing.”  It really got me thinking about the contract attorney world.

Even routine document review isn’t really legal.  We often spend the entire day categorizing documents on a computer system: clicking boxes for email, or contract, or a newspaper article.  Occasionally we’ll have to put a few puzzles together like this newspaper article and that contract are attachments to that earlier email.  And if one of the people who sent the email was an attorney, then you check the “privileged” box and then a real attorney will take it from there.  I jest, but only somewhat.  Sometimes the work isn’t even legal at all.  My first contract attorney project, the same mentioned way back in Good News & Bad, had me inventorying boxes of legal files the law firm had received from the prior law firm that handled that client’s case.  We were asked to type up quick descriptions of each document into excel spreadsheets.  Frankly I think it was an utter waste of time since we weren’t given standards as to how to describe those documents.  Anyone who’s worked with Excel knows that even the slightest difference in those cells screws up the sorting system: email, Email, E-mail, e-mail, emails, e-mails, and E-mails—they’ll all sort separately.  I really wonder what they ultimately did with that four-hundred page excel spreadsheet we created.  God, why are attorneys so painfully inefficient?

Clearly change has gonna come.  College students could have inventoried those boxes.  And as data storage and management becomes more sophisticated, contract attorneys soon won’t be needed to check “email” or “attachment” on a document review software systems.  Of course, computer error will continue; humans will still be needed.  I’m just exaggerating a bit for emphasis here.  But those I referenced above, who need or want to be a part of the industry that’s on its way, might start thinking about forming Super Contract Attorney agency.  A highly trained, vetted, professional, credentialed set of attorneys who swoop in and help you get your documents reviewed or your production of documents out to opposing counsel or help assist you in preparing for trial.  Any number of opportunities.  Why does it have to be a law firm that does it?

9 Responses

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  1. I think the primary purpose of this blog has changed (or was mis-categorized from the get-go) from “Blogging Away Debt…” to sort of an online diary of a man’s life where debt is simply looming large in the background.

    That’s fine–it’s still interesting and a good read, but maybe that is why many times it really doesn’t seem like you take the financial advice to heart? Or, I suppose, you aren’t writing this blog in the hopes of getting advice, never asked for it, and feel like you’re doing just fine with your own plan (but look at the numbers!).

    I guess what I’m getting at is, would you rather we lay off on the financial/budgeting/accounting advice as primary comment material and have it simply “loom in the background” like your debt does to your content?



    March 10, 2010 at 08:22

  2. I never said that I would devote my entries or this blog to discussing only debt. Even the About page notes that I’m “writing about myself, my debt, my feelings and finances, my spending, and, of course, my progress and set-backs in meeting this goal” of getting out of debt in a year. Blogging away . . . not blogging about my debt.

    So that said, no, I don’t mind the advice. I welcome it. Besides there may be many others who follow it but just don’t make their presence known by commenting. But it would be helpful if commenters gave realistic suggestions on reducing debts, costs, etc. And read prior posts. (If I get one more new reader who tells me to move I think I’ll scream!)

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 10, 2010 at 09:38

  3. I think you should do a “clip show” version of a blog to update readers. Or have a guest reader do it for you. “In prior posts, Laidoff Lawyer sold some art and struggled with BofA while purveying the gay scene in Manhattan, looking for love.”


    March 10, 2010 at 12:14

  4. Good summary. 😉

    What’s a clip show?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 10, 2010 at 12:28

  5. have you thought about moving?


    March 10, 2010 at 22:12

  6. I went to law school because I wanted to leave the food service industry after over a decade there. I thought for sure if I had a graduate degree and worked with other educated people I wouldn’t get treated in such a subhuman way. Years later I discover that no, restaurant workers with a high school degree are generally treated better than lawyers, esp. female lawyers. 😦


    March 12, 2010 at 09:46

  7. So true Heather.


    March 13, 2010 at 09:02

  8. Initially I had thought lawyers would be friendly, supportive of each other, helpful. We are a helping / service industry after all. But working at the theatre has reminded me that it’s not so. There is a sort of working-man’s honor among blue-collar workers that doesn’t exist in white-collar. In broad strokes, I’ve seen that blue-collar is more group-focused whereas white-collar is individuals for themselves. It’s easy to idealize one group over the other; or denigrate one over the other. Not every worker in either group is the same. There are good, friendly, helpful, supportive lawyers. And there are selfish, nasty, aggressive, backstabbing waiters or ushers. That said though, I think the legal industry (and that means each of us who are lawyers) need to work on the intra-professional culture.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 13, 2010 at 09:47

  9. There are definitely more beatches in the white-collar world. People are much colder. People in the blue-collar world know life is hard, and have seen struggle – many have kids early on and develop a perspective about life. In the white collar world, many come from affluent/educated backgrounds and may not have seen much struggle and remain kind of spoiled. Even those that come from decent hard-working blue-collar families get that way by working with the spoiled white-collars. White collars need a good kick in the ass – but don’t worry, they all get it in the end. I wish they’d get it sooner – but life humbles everyone.


    March 13, 2010 at 14:43

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