Check out Julie Triedman's article from the March issue of American Lawyer Magazine:
March 2006 SECTION: BARTALK Vol. 28
SLAVES OF NEW YORK;
Law firm temps are furiously blogging about their work conditions
AT 4 P.M. DOWN IN the basement of a large New York firm, a temporary attorney plots his escape. After days of staring into a flickering computer screen for 12 hours, he can't bear to code another document. The temp's destination is modest: a Starbucks across the street. But aside from lunch and bathroom breaks, he can't leave the floor. If he does, he'll lose his job.
At another firm, the temps were first assigned to a conference room with a window, but then transferred to a room they call "the pit."
These are the kinds of stories temps tell each other from the comfort of their anonymous blogs. And to hear them tell it, working conditions are awful now that law firms are hiring more temps to do the drudge work formerly reserved for associates.
There is Temporary Attorney, whose anonymous protagonist, "Tom the Temp," says he was downsized from a big firm; DC Temp, written by a self-described "attorney in waiting"; and Cribspace, whose author claims to be a 28-year-old licensed attorney recently employed at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The relevant URLs are dctemp.blogspot.com, temporaryattorney.blogspot.com, and cribspace.blogspot.com.
One reason for the surge in temp work is that firms now perform more discovery than ever. Another is that many grads of second- and third-tier law schools are unable to land associate jobs at big firms. Rather than take a low salary at a small firm, they sign on for steady temp work with the big firms. (New York Law School, for example, says that its 2004 grads at small firms earn between $35,000 and $51,000.)
By contrast, temp agencies pay $19 to $25 an hour to unlicensed J.D.s. Licensed J.D.s can earn up to $35 per hour, and specialized lawyers can top $100 an hour, say two staffing agency recruiters. Most temps are paid time and a half when they work more than 40 hours.
But oh, the pain of it all. At most firms, temps do online document review, a process that involves reading e-mail and documents and tagging them with a code that states their relevance to the case at hand. It's grueling work, made more so by their invisibility.
"Tom the Temp" has sparked a lively debate by declaring the system inefficient and urging temps to unionize. But one of his anonymous posters calls the system efficient, saying, "The bottom line is that utilization of [temps] increases the revenue stream, and profits, for the partners at the firms where [they] are utilized." Otherwise, the source says, firms wouldn't use them.
That opinion was seconded by a partner at a top New York firm who spoke on condition of anonymity. This source says he uses temp lawyers because he can bill the work to clients at associate rates, or $180?$200 an hour. His firm pays the agencies $50?$65 per hour and pockets the rest. (Recruiters confirm those agency rates, but say that rates and law firm markups are dropping.)
One firm in particular has come under fire for its work conditions: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which Tom recently named "Sweatshop of the Year."
Tom's complaints were corroborated by a Paul, Weiss temp who provided proof of his employment and spoke on condition of anonymity. This source says he was one of 40 temps working 12-hour stints six days a week at the firm's New York office. He says they were corralled in a windowless basement room littered with dead cockroaches, and that six of seven exits were blocked.
Paul, Weiss managing partner Alfred Youngwood concedes that some "J.D. paras" work on the "concourse level" and that in one room a few exits are blocked. But, he says, the firm complies with safety codes. He declines to say how much the firm bills clients for the work. These "are not the people who are getting billed out at $200 an hour," he says. "They're not doing legal work."
The Paul, Weiss temp disagrees. Along with coding for responsiveness, he says, he is expected to review for privilege. "It's true we spend probably 80 percent of the day bullshitting and wandering around," this temp confides. "But when you're paying an attorney $20 an hour, what do you expect?"