Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Meerkat Manor

with 3 comments

Total Black: $349.29
Total Red: $235,224.00

I had an interview this morning with a freelance reporter.  It’s the third request from a journalist via the blog and the second interview I’ve given.  The first journalist balked at my request for anonymity and we never reached to interview stage.  The second was willing to work with me on anonymity, but he didn’t get approval for the article and so the interview was for naught.  The third didn’t even ask my name.  We talked for just over a half-hour this morning.  All three wanted to talk about lawyers struggling with student loans.  Except the journalist today.  He wanted to talk about contract attorneys as well.  I figured I can’t leave the land of temp lawyers without a few more posts dedicated to the quirks, oddities, and irregularities of contract attorney work.

I’ve become pretty friendly with the office manager who works at the temporary attorney staffing agency, supervising their office space.  Every so often we’ll go for a coffee together in the afternoon or step out to grab something for lunch.  One or two times we’ve chipped in together and ordered breakfast.  Like me, Office Manager is sort of in the annex, if you will.  Except for me, everyone else on my team is over at the firm.  Same for Office Manager because the space for the document attorneys is separate from the agency’s office.  I’ve also been in the space for months now and one late night we got to talking and have been chatty since.  But it seems any time Office Manager stops by my area to talk with me, or I stop by her desk to chat with her—the attorneys poke their heads up.

You have to visualize the setting first.  On one side of Office Manger is a glass wall with about five rows of tables—two tables per row—stretching back to the end of the office.  And about four attorneys on either side.  Not as far back as the picture posted in Working Late, but you get the idea.  Except that instead of typewriters, situated in front of each attorney is a computer monitor.  And any time Office Manager and I do anything—those attorney’s pop their head’s up above their monitors to peer over and see what we’re doing.  From our angle, we see peering eyes over computer monitors.  One day I commented that they looked like meerkats—poking their heads up to see what’s happening—and Office Manger burst out laughing.  They do.  Without fail.  Can’t you just hear that cartoon voice calling out, “Which way did they go, George?  Which way did they go?”  And now anytime they do it, Office Manager mentions that the attorneys are meerkating again.

Frankly, I don’t get it.  I just don’t.  Contract attorneys are so interested in what’s happening around them, but most of them aren’t very interesting themselves.  I really am not interested in anything that goes on here.  I don’t really engage the other attorneys in small talk and other silly banter—not because I am a rude or mean or crass person.  I just know, from overhearing their chatter with each other, that any small talk will be forced and end with some trite  statement like: “Well, whaddya gonna do?” or “Same shit; different day” or “At least we’re working” or some other nauseatingly dull droning-on about their humdrum existences.  Yes, in their defense, I acknowledge the Ignatius J. Reilly sulking behind my voice.  But seriously—why must humanity be so mundane?  And why must temp attorneys—presumably persons who’ve been challenged by higher education and then licensed by a professional organization—why must they be so damn strange?

For example, one attorney decided to bring to the office space his own humidifier.  He’s not set it near his desk.  No.  Though odd, that would make sense.  Instead he placed it off under another table and set it puffing away, presumably to tackle the entire office space?  Sure, maybe it’s a bit dry given the photocopying and printing and the computers burning all day and night, and so on.  But really?  A bedroom humidifier?  That’s like using an ice-cube in the Sahara to fight off the heat.

Then there’s the guy whose shoes are just about ready to rip from the soles of his feet.  They’re so worn down already that the body of the shoe moves before the rubber soles do.  I noticed it the other day in the elevator while looking down to avoid that silly banter noted above.  He’s the same whose every meal comes from the nearby 99-cent store.  Every meal is a frozen dinner.  I’m sorry, but I’d rather plug along with my debt for another twenty years than resort to that sort of frugality.  (I’m sure twenty commenters will be quick to predict that outcome for me.)  Oh, did I mention that he’s at least in his late 40s, if not 50s?  I don’t know anyone else’s situation.  He may have enormous health care bills or a large family to support.  Perhaps he needs to be frugal.  But we make enough money to afford a new pair of shoes.  Come on, now.  There’s frugal and then there’s being a damn cheapskate.

And then there’s the woman who knits half the day away.  Actually, I’ve now seen a few women knitting.  I mentioned her during the interview today.  The journalist had asked about life was like as a contract attorney: how did I get in to temporary attorney work, did I enjoy document reviewing, do I find it challenging, and so on.  He also asked if I had heard of attorneys agreeing amongst themselves to slow their pace in order to prolong the project.  I told the truth: not exactly.

It is an inverse incentive contract attorneys are saddled with.  As reward for your hard work you’re handed a pink slip.  I suspect that’s why a few agencies keep people on board and move them from project to project.  The agency I currently work for does that.  It also offers a 401(k) plan as well as health care and a few other benefits: benefits not typically offered by other temporary staffing agencies because they typically do not keep attorneys on their payroll that steadily.  So when asked by the journalist about contract attorneys collectively agreeing to slow their pace I mentioned the only experience I had with that sort of situation: back on the larger document review project when the Woman Who Sat Next To Me scolded me for going through my batches of documents too quickly, warning that I’d work us all out of a job.  I haven’t seen or heard attorneys agree to any sort of terms, but I think it is understood.  Lawyers who work quickly are ostracized by other contract attorneys.

Ah . . . the Meerkat Manor.  Anne was right in a comment she posted: I have been given a ticket out.  I took it.  I’m lucky.  And I’m thankful.  Especially to be getting out of the zoo!  But the most tragic aspect to nearly all of contract attorney work is the generations of attorneys who’ve settled into mindless complacency.  They’ve abandoned ambition and checked their dreams at the agency’s door.  Even if they can’t, or don’t care any longer to, excel in law, there’s so many other areas and professions to move into.  Start a blog and become a theatre critic.  No-New Shoes Man sees nearly every Broadway show that comes out.  Perez Hilton didn’t start out as anything special; his first post, if not one of the first, is a mere a copy and pasting of material from a magazine article about Hilary Swank.  I’m not saying every temp attorney should become famous or experts or anything.  But do something else with life if you’ve given up on career!  At least Knitter is on her co-op’s board.  At least that’s something outside of this work to keep active.  But it seems that most just shrivel and die when they switch into contract attorney work.  Not really sure why.  In one way, contract attorney work can be freeing: it’s a steady, somewhat-well-paying, 9-t0-5 gig by day that can free up nights and weekends for something different or exciting or unique.  But I suppose that’s a lot to expect from the “oh-well-another-project’s-around-the-corner” type.

3 Responses

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  1. Many temp attorneys are very strange. And yet there are some that are amazingly normal – full of humor and self-awareness. I have never me so many weirdos on one assignment, though. I wonder if they temp because they are misfits or if temping makes them so. I know I was very normal before I started temping and feel very very very weird now – with all the agency politics and twilight zone characters I have had to deal with. I hope you told the journalist about your Cookie Monster experience!


    April 26, 2010 at 11:20

  2. I did forget to mention the Cookie Monsters. But he found me through the blog so presumably he read those posts, right?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    April 26, 2010 at 12:25

  3. I hope so. That was a classic post. I laughed for days after reading it.


    April 26, 2010 at 18:18

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