Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

I’m Just a Temp

with 7 comments

Total Black: $268.28
Total Red: $226,349.12

The past few days has seen a steady increase in the hours at work at the contract attorney job.  And a corresponding increase in stress.  I’ve found myself slipping back into associate mode—as if I were an associate at a law firm again.  Checking my emails in the morning upon waking and just before going to bed at night.  One morning I awoke at 7am, and then said screw it and went back to bed until 8:30am.  At like 7:03am emails started coming through from the associate asking me to let them know ASAP when I’m in.  Of course, I didn’t get those messages until 8:30am when I awoke.  And I hopped out of bed and rushed to work—just as if I was back a the law firm.  I’ve even been reluctant to leave my desk and go to the gym or even out for food.  But it’s silly because I’m just a temp.

One day this past week I tried three times to leave to grab lunch.  On the first attempt I made it to the elevator bank before having to return to my computer to answer emails.  For the second try I got all the way to the seventh floor and then had to double back to answer more emails.  The third time I actually made it out of the building and across the street to get food.  The point, though, is that this is not the typical work day of a contract attorney.  And I wasn’t brought on to do trial preparation.  Initially was part of a team brought in to do document review.  But what I’m doing now far exceeds that work.  I’ve been tempted to raise the issue with the temporary attorney staffing agency; it’s not like the law firm is going to up my hourly rate on their own.  I’m the attorney staffing agency’s employee and their client, the law firm, is getting more than they bargained for.  Literally.  So the staffing agency is also losing money / should be getting more for the tasks the law firm is having me do.  But I digress.  The funny thing, however, about all of this is how contract attorneys are viewed.

Over the past few days, as the intensity increased, and the demands on me as well, I’ve allowed myself a few fleeting thoughts that perhaps I’m appreciated by the associates, that maybe they need me around a bit longer, value my work product.  That might not be incorrect, but an email the associate forwarded to everyone on the team belied my fleeting thoughts.  See, the associate forwarded on an email that included discussion lower in the email—perhaps it didn’t come to mind to delete it—or maybe the associate didn’t care to.  But in a discussion between the associate and the document management vendor, the associate explained to the vendor that all the “paralegals” were on board to come in early and get started on the urgent task at hand.  I was one of those “on call” as was another contract attorney and two of the firm’s actual paralegals.  She then forwarded the vendor’s reply, with an attached document, to all the “paralegals”: myself and the other contract attorney included.

Paralegals.

I didn’t go to law school for four years, and amass up over $150,000 in debt (from college and graduate schools), to be thought of as a paralegal.  As I noted in I Went To Law School For This?, I suppose that label is not off by much given that much of the work we’ve all been doing is paralegal-esque.  But often much of attorney work is paralegal-y, or even secretarial, so that’s no excuse.  The law is, sadly, a snobbish field.  But that’s not what I mean by referencing this occurrence.  It’s not acceptable to effectively reduce two attorneys to paralegals.  It’s belittling.  And insulting.  No matter what type of work we’re being called upon to do.

What gets my goat though is how I’ve been behaving.  During the telephone interview for the position I referenced in Nerves a Jumble I actually referenced the temporary attorney project I am currently on and said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving without a reasonable amount of notice.  The trial is slated to start in the first week of April.  A few weeks ago I checked on how long they expected to need me, as I explained in Stepping Up and Down.  The associate said until the trial began, past that they weren’t sure.  So I referenced that—like a fool—during the call with the prospective employer.  I explained that I wouldn’t feel professionally responsible if I just bailed at the eleventh-hour.  See, one benefit to temping is that you can leave whenever you want.  There may be ramifications—like being blacklisted by that agency you just bailed on—but you can walk out whenever you want.  And leaving for a permanent position is understood.  Temping is temporary, after all.  But now, in retrospect, after the reality check of being referred to as a paralegal—well, I see how silly of me it was to be professional courteous and considerate of the law firm and its case.  To delay a permanent position out of courtesy for the firm.  When they’re finished  wringing me dry, they’ll toss me out with the files to be shredded—probably not even a handshake or a thank you.

Eh . . . perhaps I’m being a tad bitter.  They’ve been quite thankful.  At least in emails.  So I shouldn’t exaggerate too much.  But I just can’t seem to switch to “just being a temp” mode.  I care about my work and about the work being done right and done well.  I guess since I was trained as an associate I’m programmed to behave a certain way when dealing with my work.  And it carries over into temp work.  But I got flack for it during the contract attorney project I was on back in September and October.  When I “distinguished” myself—read that as did my job as a lawyer by asking questions and bringing key documents to the attention of the associates—then The Woman Who Sat Next To Me belittled me.

Damned if you; damned if you don’t—as my father used to say.  The life of a temp attorney.  I am, after all, just a temp.  Just gotta keep reminding myself of that—then perhaps I can sleep better.  And go to the gym more.

7 Responses

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  1. Nah, don’t allow yourself to dwindle down into a “just a temp” mentality, and then produce a “just a…” effort.

    THAT is what will keep you “just a temp” indefinitely, like the woman next to you at the last job.

    However, I also agree that you should speak up to supervisor(s) about the fact that you HAVE put in the extra effort, HAVE contributed in ways that a paralegal can’t, and that you want compensated for it.

    Working hard is one thing–being taken advantage of/under-appreciated (even after bringing it to their attention) is another.

    Then again…you’ve gotta eat. They know this too, so there’s the dilemma.

    T

    T-Bag

    March 22, 2010 at 07:27

  2. If you bring up a raise, do it with the temp agency, which is your actual employer. Although you’ll probably be told ‘you agreed to this project at X dollars, and we agreed to staff it at that rate. It can’t be changed.’

    Anon

    March 22, 2010 at 08:59

  3. They wouldn’t hesitate to fire you on an hour’s notice. If they decide they’re unhappy with your work (regardless of whether there’s any merit to that position), you’ll be gone in an instant. If the case settles, you don’t think they’ll keep paying you through April, do you? Maybe they’ll let you finish out the afternoon. A week notice if you’re very, very lucky.

    spaces

    March 22, 2010 at 09:30

  4. True. But the question is how should I respond. Change must begin somewhere. It doesn’t help the scenario if I further the behavior we all decry. Do I do the professional courteous thing—when I get the offer(s)—and give them reasonable notice, assuming the judge allows for it? Or do I just blow them off and leave?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 22, 2010 at 10:39

  5. You’re probably right. But the point is that my pay rate will not increase on it’s own. I must press the issue. Plus, the staffing agency doesn’t know what I’m doing unless I bring it to their attention. But oftentimes temps, instead of pressing the issue in a professional manner, will cower in the shadows and toss pebbles at their masters, hoping to hit one in the eye. I’m not that type. (Well, except for the pebbles I throw on this blog, I suppose.)

    Laid-off Lawyer

    March 22, 2010 at 10:54

  6. I understand the bitterness at being at the same time taken advantage of and unappreciated. You wonder how any firm can be successful in the long term when they treat their employees like jerks. So counterproductive. On the other hand, I think it is probably important to show potential employers that you are someone who can be loyal and won’t leave them in a lurch by leaving suddenly for a better opportunity. Hope your clerkship job works out.

    Chris

    April 28, 2010 at 12:03

  7. Actually, I only just told them—as noted in Everyone Knows. I wasn’t going to because the timing was working out such that I didn’t need to tell the law firm or the temp agency. But that’s no longer the case.

    So, I ended up doing the nice thing after all. But only because I don’t start until June 1st. And because I still need to make money to move!

    Laid-off Lawyer

    April 28, 2010 at 13:25


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