Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The Hudson Legal "Newark" Project
"First off: facilities. This is Newark. One of the Top 5 most dangerous cities in America, 20 years strong. First thing you see from the PATH train is a Combat Roach Motel billboard rising proudly through the smog. (By the way, there is no meal or transportation allowance whatsoever on this gig since we are working less than 110 hours per week). You gotta pay to play in Newark, baby! The nearby "restaurants" include a homeless guy cooking hot dogs on a smoldering trash can filled with newspapers.
The project is at McCarter & English, near One Newark Center. It is close to Newark Penn Station, but we were still advised not to venture out after dark unless we are in groups of 3, presumably so that at least one document coder survives any drive-by shootings or any other stray munitions. A one year military tour in Iraq might be a safer, and would certainly pay a better rate. There have been no fatalities thus far, but give it time.
First things first. A lot of older lawyers on this gig - silver hair abounds. Perhaps some were/are retired solos, or maybe "law school as a second career" types. Fair enough. Their generation was trained to take pride in their work, to ask questions, to have individual input, etc. They have a bizarre and shameless desire to apply their ultra-boring life experiences to the thrilling adventure of document coding. Sad. None of which, it goes without saying, are especially prized in today's top-down legal world of "biglaw".
Not a minute of training goes by without some blue haired geezer reminiscing, like Grandpa Simpson, about some case they remembered from 1965 that reminds them of this project. Many of these poor saps are first-time doc reviewers, fresh to the slave quarters and still feeling out of place in this legal underworld. One older guy actually had the audacity to ask whether Subchapter VII(b)3 of the Omnibus Paper Churning Act of 1863 would be in play "vis a vis this project."
The incredulous look on our "trainer's" face in response to this was worth a thousand bucks. It was as if a field slave from some ante-bellum Alabama plantation had asked the overseer what price cotton was bringing in this week at the auction! The older gentleman didn't realize that he wasn't a "lawyer" anymore, but merely a "document coder." A coder does not ask any "big picture" questions, or pretend to care about the eventual outcome of the case. A coder is the plantation slave who fills his burlap sack with cotton, runs it thru the gin, and eats his plate of slop without complaint to avoid a public flogging.
It makes no difference if this old coot was once the senior partner at some strip-mall law firm in Kearney, NJ back in 1962. He is now Coder 46562, not a human being. His job is to plow through mountains of shitpaper, sign out to take a piss or pass his gallstones, and get right back to the plantation. Like "Red" in The Shawshank Redemption, he's an "institutional man" now. He must ask permission to piss, fart, use the phone, or have a bowel movement. It's funny how much trouble some of these older people have in adjusting to what for us Gen Y'ers is already an ingrained way of life. He'll get on the beam soon enough, but in the meantime it's prolonging the agony of training."