Monday, February 06, 2006

The Legal Sweatshop Award

Irony is the spice of life. I see it everywhere. Last month, listed Paul Weiss as its 2006 Litigation Department of the Year. Noted for their deft strategy and dogged work, Paul Weiss was noted for steering its clients through some pretty turbulent years. In terms of their public-interest work, Paul Weiss was noted for its victory in defense of the Santa Fe Living Wage Ordinance, which will likely have widespread implications on other living wage campaigns throughout the United States. Ironically, when it comes to the way in which they treat their own temporary workers, it's Tom the Temp's belief that their record is less than satisfactory.

For a short while, I actually temped at this firm. The conditions were horrific. There were about 15 of us -- half former biglaw associates/half recent graduates -- packed into a small, windowless conference room. It appeared as if the room had previously served as a supply closet. Every morning, in order to reach our workspaces, we had to climb over one another. At my workstation, I wasn't able to extend my arms, nor was I able to lean back, as I would have pressed up against those working around me. Because the review was paper-based, throughout the day boxes upon boxes of discovery documents would pile up around the room. In an emergency, things could have gotten dicey. Talking was forbidden. A heavy-set paralegal would periodically come around and bellow out in a deep, baritone voice to do, "more workin' and less talkin'." Like a child, you had to sign out to use the restroom. Additionally, if you arrived to work more than a half an hour late, you would have been required to go home for the day. Stalinism prevailed, as people were constantly being fired for speaking out of line. One day, a middle-aged woman, who had recently been laid off from her in-house job, broke down in tears.

After a few days in this hell-hole of a job, I just had to get out. I hopped off the project. The agency wasn't pleased. Late one night, I received an angry call from the agency recruiter demanding to know, "How could I?" Like an un-housebroken puppy who had just urinated on her new carpet, she demanded to know, "How dare I leave the job!" I was forever after placed on the agency's blacklist.

I am not alone in my assessment of this project. In the last couple of weeks, I have received numerous e-mails and reports detailing the harsh work conditions that temp attorneys face at this particular firm. Here are just some of the comments:

"We have to use a public, concourse-level bathroom where homeless people bathe and groom, there was a roach problem recently from other people leaving food/crap in the basement, so the place stinks of roach spray/bombs and there's Combat roach motels all over the place"

"basement, mice, falling ceilings"

"it's an utter hell-hole"

"The computer monitors are circa 1989 and the tubes are going bad, so the docs are hard to read as the type/fonts are blurry"

"the worst of the worst in terms of temping"

"it's like working at a construction site"

"Exits are blocked with boxes, wires and workstations"

"$21 an hour for both admitted and non-admitted attorneys"

"There is no internet because they don't trust us and no cell-phones because we are in the basement"

"Weiss pulled a real Bait & Switch - 2 days after I started they bumped the mandatory weekday hours from 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. to 9 a.m.-11 p.m! A fourteen hour day!"

"Weiss is the most miserable place I have ever worked at and I have had alot of blue-collar jobs"

"bathroom filthy and inadequate"

On behalf of Chuckles the Chicken, Tom the Temp now presents Paul Weiss with the Temp Attorney Legal Sweatshop Award. Congratulations!

{Tom the Temp's award is based on his own personal opinion, relating to his own first-hand observations and those e-mails and reports that he has received from those who also have temped there.)


Gabe said...

I am glad that you pointed this out. I have heard horrific stories about how that firm has treated their contract attorneys for years.

Anonymous said...

I've been warned about Paul Weiss before. I am afraid. Very afraid.

Anonymous said...

the winner was so obvious

Anonymous said...

I wish the firm would get more negative press about it though, instead of being known among unemployed attorneys.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand temps. I have been temping for years, been on good assignments and on bad. When I find myself on a bad assignment, I leave. There is always a way to do it without burning bridges. For example, tell the agency you got a position as a staff attorney. They can't dispute that. They also know that some staff attorneys work on a three month contract basis so you could be back in templand. The agencies are whores, they don't care if they like you or not, they just need warm bodies. So my advice to all the temps out there is to simply leave the job if it sucks. There is no better way to get the message across that we will not be treated like slave labor. Tom is doing a good job uniting us, lets run with it!

Anonymous said...

Someone should organize a walkout of Paul Weiss temps. On the day that hours are mysteriously bumped to 11pm, everyone should just walk out at 8:30pm in unison.

Tee hee.

Anonymous said...

How about a walk out at all the New York firms! strike, strike, strike!

Anonymous said...

Not all firms are "sweatshops" by any means. In the next couple of weeks, the press will be reporting on the conditions at a handful of firms that utilize sweatshop labor. Let's see if this negative press causes them to clean up their act. If not, we can organize more drastic action.

tom the temp

Anonymous said...

Tom the Temp,

Will this press report be in print or TV media? I would be interested to know and pass the word along.

Tired of Temping

Anonymous said...

Both. In print and documentary form. The first article in a national publication is due to come out in March. If you still want to contribute your "horror" stories, please e-mail me.

tom the temp

Anonymous said...

WOW - never worked at Paul Weiss before and have been at many many firms in NYC ... When the time comes for me to leave temping - I am tempted to just get on a Paul Weiss assignment for fun - for just one day, for free - and jump up and scream I QUIT in the middle of the training and walk out ... classic! I'll be an urban legend and you'll know who I am when it happens! :) How about THAT for a swan song!?

Anonymous said...

HA HA HA! I totally hear ya. My temp gig is wonderful compared to these stories. Now that I've heard so many horror stories from that place from former classmates (who have all moved onto better things - well, it can't get much worse), once I am done with temping, I just want to be placed on a Paul Weiss assignment, then leave screaming, arms flailing, in the middle of the first day.

Anonymous said...

The best part about that is that when an assignment begins we will never know who in the training class is the plant that intends to scream out of the project!! LOL

Anonymous said...

Paul Weiss is a real scumbag firm, they make Saddam Hussein & Kim Jung Ill look like Barney the Dinosaur. In the "Jury Room" (Weiss's cafeteria) they have around 40 awards from the UN and the Thurgood MArshall Society, etc. about all the great work they do. I was treated like an animal at that place, what a dump! Weiss should be ashamed of themselves, they're a TTT firm anyway, Cromwell and Wachtell and even Mc-LawFirms like Skadden have more prestige than Weiss. Their associates are dummies, I wouldn't hire Weiss to litigate a traffic ticket for me! All the best litigators are small law guys like the late Cochrane, and John Edwards et al. Edwards would cut Weiss's attornys to shreds and leave them pissing and shitting little apples, they are just typical Biglaw bluebook dorks and Edwards is the freakin man. Weiss can kiss my ass!

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