Tuesday, March 14, 2006

American Lawyer Magazine

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?"

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

Its an open question, but I think if a LICENSED ATTORNEY is expected to maintain all information privileged and confidential, it is legal work.

Whatever happened to the article that was going to get published?

The Old Man said...

Tom, I've been in the temp biz for close to ten years now. It's been a long hard slog with a few staff attorney gigs thrown in. It's paid the mortgage, but it's not like I see my kids or wife that much. Keep up the good fight...people need better treatment than being locked in roach-ridden boilerrooms 12 hours a day to make a buck. Go baby!

Anonymous said...

The conditions under which temps work is absoutely crazy. Look no further than the project we're on: Anita was more interested in having glass cubicles so that she can micro-manage temps rather than an office with bathrooms, exits, or a room where people can use the phone (how crazy is it that you have to make a phone call in the elevator hallway with 50 other people) while Anita parade around on her phone.

The Old Man said...

I've done time on Park Avenue South, too. I know of what you speak. We found it helpful to prop the men's room door open when not in use in a feeble attempt to air it out.

Anonymous said...

"Whatever happened to the article that was going to get published?"

A full-length feature may come at the end of the year. Julie and her editors appear open to the idea. I think we owe them a whole lot of gratitude for the help they have provided already by reporting on this issue.

TTT

Anonymous said...

Wahhhh, the conditions are terrible. You don't have to deal with the stress most associates are compensated to handle. If you want to do temp work, that's fine, but if you have a law degree, your choices appear broader than just bitching and complaining.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it past your bedtime Eileen?

Anonymous said...

I thought the idea was to spark interest in the current state of affairs of the legal world. The last paragraph will be/is the most salient part of the piece because it is the last thing one reads. It perpetuates the notion that temps are people who cannot get "real" jobs because they are inferior. The overarching focus should be not only on the horrid conditions to which temps are sometimes subjected, but also the big picture - i.e. this is what the legal market is today. Discovery is the majority of legal work. It isn't Law & Order! Most attorneys never see the inside of a court room. Temps have become necessary from a fiscal perspective. I think if people both outside and inside the biz were more aware of the reality, there would be less of a stigma attached to contract work.

Anonymous said...

Everyone should email Alfred Youngwood and say hello.

Anonymous said...

Good on you, Tom. Let these greedy scumbags be exposed. I also hope that the small firm scumbags get burned -- no-one with a law degree should have to work for peanuts (i.e., $50K or less, no benes) for some ambulance-chasing shyster.

Anonymous said...

You all should organize. All the temps who are unhappy with their working ocnditions, pay, benefits should meet and organize. What is stopping all of you? There is no law against organizing and developing a plan. The temp agencies have nothing on you. All they do is push resumes and cut the checks. Do it for yourselves. Talk/blogging is cheap.

Anonymous said...

Wassup. I appreciate your concern with "The Struggle."

Calling your supervisor out in public is not cool unless she did the same to you.

I am irritated by the stereotype that we are a slacker, half-assed law school, shitty-grades-having lot.

While that may be the case for me, a significant number of my cohorts have been bright eyed Ivy Leaguers, rebel Ivy Leaguers, and Type "A" Ivy Leaguers.
The Type "A"s do not last.

Good luck with your canine companion (though my gut tells me your companion is a feline).

I would be killer to know where you sit!

BTW -I like contracting. You meet so many interesting people...

Anonymous said...

9:16

he is not on the project anymore -duh

They call me Mango said...

I have temped for a few large law firms. usually the permanent lawyers are cool. The Staff attorneys are more often from the "Island of Lost Toys". And although the younger paralegals you find at some of the more affluent firms are quite agreeable, many of the working class ones in their jaded 40s and 50s can be very harsh on the temp attorneys. Generally the temping firms have zero control over the process and are slaves to the caprices of the law firms' disorganization and coursing sense of despotic power over a Temp's ability to earn money. Recently, interviews, at least in NYC, are becoming increasingly frequent and it seems that the odder you are, the more likely you are to be hired so as not to threaten the, usually, 2nd rate Staff attorneys that run the projects like they are overseers on a galley.

Additionally, there are usually a lot of cool temp lawyers on these projects but there are always some snitches and sell-outs or jealous ones (jealous about which law school you attended, as if we arent all in the same predicament.) It is up to younger attorneys to ban together and fight the "Man" for their civil rights and a proper slice of the profits. I dont think it will be the general public that will shed any tears for the discomfort of Temp attorneys or, indeed, any type of attorneys.

Anonymous said...

I love temping.

Most people would kill to have a job that pays 8-10K per month and allows you to work essentialy whenever you want to. Personally, I only work about 3-4 months out of the year. Then I move somewhere cheap (Eastern Europe, Former Soviet Union, Latin America, etc.). Also, the job isn't physical and is fairly stress free. Project ended, oh well, find another. Not to mention that there’s 4-6 different temp agencies.

By comparison, the average construction worker is out there in the hot sun breaking his back for less money. Someone is standing around on his feet all day trying to sell refrigirators for less money. Some IT guy is stuck in front of a computer trying to figure out why the server crashed. Then there’s some salesperson stressing about whether he or she has made enough sales for the month. Etc. Moreover, these people can't just pack up and leave when a project is over. They have “careers” and have to work.

So what if the job entails doing a bunch of busy work that a "smart” associate doesn't want to do? The associates are doing a bunch of busy work that the “super smart” partners don’t want to do. Personally, I’d rather have 8-9 months of free time to travel, learn a language, chill out on a beach, etc. instead of learning how to file an FTC 2nd request or dispose someone. Who cares if some stupid temp thinks he or she is going to get ahead by snitching on the other temps? It beats being locked in an office all day and staring at the computer. Moreover, the stupid temps are interesting to watch (as long as they’re not snitching on you). You never know what they’ll do next.

Oh yeah, one other thing, people can and do get jobs at the firms. It’s not that hard to do. Show up on time, don’t lie about the hours worked, and volunteer to do priv. review or whatever.

Anyway, I’m in Moscow enjoying the fruits of my 3-4 months of “hard” work. If nothing works out for me here, I’ll come back in about 9-10 months and work for another 3-4. Maybe after that I‘ll go to India and hike around in the Mountains or lie on a beach. Temping is a tough life, let me tell you.

Doug and Wendy Whiners said...

WARNING: Crude language follows….

To everyone,

I know it’s human nature to bitch about your job. Everyone does it. I’ve done it, we all have. I’ve been reading your posts, I see your anger, and I see your frustration. At one time, I lived it. And I have one thing to ask:

What the fuck is wrong with you people?

I’ve temped with you in the trenches. I’m not a lawyer, but my wife is, and we both would like to say “Thank you.” Why? See, because of immature, whiny, vindictive, little creeps like you guys, her hard work and sacrifice was appreciated that much more.

In the years of her temp career I never once saw her lie on her time sheet (unlike YOU). I never once saw her come in late (unlike YOU). She never worked high or drunk (unlike YOU). She never took more than a few minutes in the bathroom. If she did spend more time in the bathroom, you can bet she deducted the time on her time sheet. (unlike YOU who wants to be paid for sitting on your ass for a half hour, crapping and reading in a stall, feeling like you deserve cash for your private little recess).

Sure she bitched, sure she felt the pressure of loans (we both did and still do) but did she steal time from the company like YOU want to. No. You made her look twice as amazing as she is. And then she was hired as an associate at $150,000 (plus bonus and 401k, etc.) directly because she was honest and very focused at her really boring job. Plus, she didn’t listen to people like YOU, thank God.

Now, the first step to contrition is always the hardest, so I’ll get you started. Raise your right hand, or hook, or whatever...

I’m sorry you’re complaining when you’re making between $35 and $60 + OT an hour (yes, SIXTY +OT. Those jobs are out there, Bubba, but they won’t go to YOU. Guess why. Why don’t you reread the third paragraph…I’ll wait), effectively five to ten times what the average Joe/Jane makes per hour in this country.

I’m sorry someone forced you to enroll in law school and made you sit through three years of classes. Those must have been heavy shackles to bear. How did you ever sign your temp contract with those handcuffs on? That IS your signature, right?

I’m sorry you went to law school in 1927, when there was about, what? A hundred lawyers in the entire country? With available jobs at every corner? It’s 2007, guys. In THIS century, there are about 15,000 lawyers pumped into the legal system every year, a fact known so well to so many only “The first song played on MTV was ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’” would beat it in a popular trivia contest. In three years of law school, surrounded by lawyers, being taught by lawyers, I’m sorry this glaring statistic escaped you.

I’m sorry you didn’t get that free ride you thought you would get. It’s called paying your dues people and everyone does it. The good ones, anyway.

I’m sorry you don’t realize that every time you cry, bitch, and PERSONALLY insult Evelyn, Kathryn, et al, you don’t realize you’re cutting your own throat. WHO DO YOU THINK READS YOUR BILE? How much do you think they want to help you, or for that matter even be civil to you en mass after reading your shit stained posts? Self-defeating to say the very least…

I truly am sorry for you. So, maybe if y’all stopped bitching long enough, stopped wasting work time trying to come up with a clever complaint/metaphor/allusion/insult to tell Tom and did some legitimate work, maybe you’ll get out of the “hell” you’re in.

Oh, and to Tom the “Robin Hood Wannabe” Temp, I know you think your site helps, but frankly, you’re part of the problem. Don’t give these little bitches a forum to drown themselves, to perpetuate their lameness, to continue their self-loathing spiral into oblivion. Let them complain like normal people…to their bartender.

Now, my wife and I are tired. We went to see Van Halen tonight at MSG. Floor seats, man. We rocked hard!

Thanks again for the tickets.

Anonymous

PS Believe me, I wish I could state my name. However, anyone who wants to try to defend themselves, well, I love to laugh, so to call me an asshole personally, and I know I am one, you can reach me at DougAndWendyWhiner@gmail.com. I set it up just for YOU. Now, don’t you feel appreciated?

A.

Emma said...

In response to the following: "Wahhhh, the conditions are terrible. You don't have to deal with the stress most associates are compensated to handle. If you want to do temp work, that's fine, but if you have a law degree, your choices appear broader than just bitching and complaining."

The only reason I do this work is because I live in a large urban center overrun with attorneys and very few jobs (Chicago). I would love to practice law. I'd do it for less than I'm making temping but no one's biting and I have $180k of loans to start paying off.

Please don't insult my intelligence with a comment like the one above. I think very few people actually choose to do this type of work. At least that's the reality here in Chi-town.

Anonymous said...

Anon - loves temping. Get a real job at a firm after tempting there? Huh? Most would not even interview or consider a temp, at least for anything but a staff attorney position, and even that's a tiny minority of firms. Only one I ever heard of that "got out" temped at one large firm for a little while, before landing a real job at a DIFFERENT large firm at which she'd never temped. Also, she was Harvard Law.

Anonymous said...

Doug and Wendy Whiner -- Very well said. I came across these pathetic blogs today and was contemplating stating something to all these crybabies I've been reading. Thanks for saving me the effort.

As for the rest of you, what is your problem? You most likely put yourself in the predicament you're currently in, so deal with it. If it's so terrible, do something else.

Anonymous said...

I just finished a large project. I wished it went on longer. It was mindless and I could work as many hours as necessary. People shouldn't complain about this work. Thank God it is available or we'd really have nothing. I'd prefer not working for peanuts at a small firm.

andrew123 said...

I don't think it will be the general public that will shed any tears for the discomfort of Temp attorneys or, indeed, any type of attorneys.
=================================
Andrew William

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