Monday, January 12, 2009

Contract Lawyers: Cheaper By The Hour

"USE OF CONTRACT ATTORNEYS GROW, AS DO THE COMPLAINTS

Julie Kay / Staff reporter
January 12, 2009

A year or two ago, South Florida legal recruiter Abbe Mald Bunt was able to place attorney clients with new jobs "in a minute."

Now, she's referring most clients — primarily experienced associates who were laid off — to legal staffing agencies for "contract work."

"I'm just hoping they will get some viable employment," said Bunt, who said she is "flooded" with résumés these days.

Bunt is not alone. As law firms downsize, laid-off attorneys and new law school graduates unable to find jobs have been turning to an option they may never have imagined at law school: becoming contract attorneys — hired guns for $35 an hour."


Read the rest of Julie Kay's article here:

http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202427338861

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Bonnie Klein, director of contract legal services for Cambridge, called the Washington market "saturated" and said the economy was partially to blame for her company's closing its Washington office about three months ago. The Atlanta market is also "very slow," she said.

However, the company, using lessons learned from Washington, is opening a New York office in a strategic partnership with another firm. "We expect a lot of work associated with the bailout will boost business in New York," Klein said."

Bonnie will soon find out that the situation in New York is just as bad as in DC, if not worse. There will be NO huge boost because of the bailout. David Perla and his ilk will be conducting 1st level reviews across India, specifically in Mumbai. Meanwhile, Joan King and her fellow law school administration shysters are going to continue to entice thousands of more people to enter this dying "profession" with their fraudulent stats. The situation is pretty dire. Last person out of the room, turn out the lights.

Anonymous said...

this is a fluff piece, I am pretty disappointed with it. It does not even begin to paint an accurate picture of the situation.

Anonymous said...

My coffee just shot out my nose.

"But Osman said his firm is "sharing the burden" with contract attorneys by decreasing his profit margins."

WTF? We need a new, more aggressive Tom the Temp. If fluff-fluff pieces like this are going to be put out there, obviously the truth isn't getting out.

Anonymous said...

Any publicity is better than no publicity. I prefer reading an article like this that brings the issues to more people than the dumb, poorly-written comments some of my colleagues leave on this blog.

Anonymous said...

WTF is the most appropriate response here on this Law.com piece. Fact: not much going down in NYC, as is true also of D.C. Point: Associates being laid off won't have temp opportunities. Fact: there is only one staffing agency that will only recuit associates from BIGLAW, and that is where they will get work, if at all. Point: They'd be smarter to group together and start a number of smaller to mid-sized law firms composed of associates laid off from BIGLAW, and then undercut BIGLAW, and hire us......heh, if you can't beat the system to date, let's see if there is another way......someone out there will become very business saavy say forget doing contract work, I am starting my own law firm with other like minded laid off associates.

Anonymous said...

Good luck, try prying away some the corporate clients away from the established big law firms. Otherwise you'll be opening up a shitlaw shop cutting and pasting motions in traffic court.

Anonymous said...

Fact, Point, Fact, Point
Fact: There is no money anywhere right now to be spent on anything.

Point: How will starting your own law firm change that?

Anonymous said...

We need a professional association that will stand up against the ABA's agenda of deprofessionalizing law (via outsourcing and improper use of paralegals)for the purpose of screwing their fellow attorneys out of the ability to earn a livelihood.

We need to find a way to file complaints to fight the unauthorized practice of law without destroying our own careers.

The trouble is that anyone who openly belongs to such an association will no doubt be instantly blacklisted from the little work that is left.

Anonymous said...

855 is right. I've been researching the capital markets. They remain frozen. Even for areas with a clear upside long term potential no one is investing. So, I do not see any changes. Hopefully with Obama's stimulus, but then I am not sure that will work either. We can only hope or otherwise economists are saying the recession/depression will deepen and may last through 2010.

Anonymous said...

I just scored a sweet gig. But I got lucky. It's dead in the west.

selling my jd said...

$35 an hour.... where is that gig ?? the rate in CT is $25.00...

Anonymous said...

Ya but your gig will probably be 40 hours a week and cancelled after 3 days.

Have fun and don't have high expectations.

Anonymous said...

Point: They'd be smarter to group together and start a number of smaller to mid-sized law firms composed of associates laid off from BIGLAW, and then undercut BIGLAW, and hire us
___________________________________

If that worked, then why aren't existing midlaw firms doing that? Oh yeah--there are no existing midlaw firms, because no matter how much corporate clients complain about biglaw rates, they aren't about to abandon Cravath for some firm consisting of laid off Cravath senior associates and of counsels.

Anonymous said...

As a newbie I am wondering what is the better option for me. I am currently a temp attorney at a law firm that hired me directly and is paying $24/hour. The job is essentially guaranteed since there is over 2 years of work that needs to be done.

I just got called in for an interview at a doc review job that pays $30/hour, but I question the duration of this project (or future projects with that agency). What do y'all think? Is the $6/hour increase worth the risk? The work at the law firm is also much better than doc review and provides substantive work IMO.

Anonymous said...

well if you leave the $24 project you will be blacklisted by that agency and the firm and you will never work for either again, unless you have already agreed to only work a set amount of time, like say three months.
Having said that do you really want to work for the next two years at 24 an hour?
The other thing to consider is that the current project really can end at any time even if there is two years worth of work things settle all the time.
With the $30 an hour project, you have no idea how solid that one will be either.
Both of these projects are on the very low side of the wage scale, so if I were you I would stay at the $24 project and look to get any full time legal job, even if it only pays 40k because you are already not making any money in your current situtaion.
If you take a full time job at least you can gain some skills which may payoff later on. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

anybody starting a job with Update this week? supposedly one is starting...

Anonymous said...

I am not sure where the hourly rate she has came from, but I can tell you that the firm I am working for only pays 24-25 and takes non-admitted JDs in NYC. Only an occasional Hudson project gets pushed through at anything higher than that.
There is one group of JDs and non-JDs at 40-50 per hour, but it's a language case.
That article is a complete joke.
I am not sure that any amount of whining about conditions, roaches, or sign out sheets can really capture the demoralizing nature of doc review. You ARE nothing; you DO nothing; you will always BE nothing.
I feel dumb, unmarketable, and totally duped by my law school. I had great grades and by all accounts should and could be doing something great with my life, but am now stuck in the "system" with no real avenue out of the self-perpetuating cycle. All this because I could literally not afford to work for a different kind of NYC sweatshop, the $35K associate position.

Anonymous said...

To 1:29,
There's no such thing as guaranteed contract work. There's even no such thing as guarnteed work if you have a permanent position. Cases settle. They do go judgment. They get dismissed. Clients change firms. Counsel reach agreements that cut the amount of work to be done substantially. You cannot rely on any one specific assignment for set amount of time.

Anonymous said...

Ha. Awesome.

http://newyork.craigslist.org/mnh/lgl/991469818.html

Anonymous said...

1:29 - I echo the comments made about not relying on 2 years of work, as cases can end suddenly at any point and without warning. $24 is also a very low figure to be settling for for a two year period. Aim higher.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I don't think things are all "peachy keen" at Ryley Carlock...

Anonymous said...

The real root of the problem is the student loans!

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/forgive_student_loans_stimulate_the_middle_and_lower_middle_class

Anonymous said...

1:29 here, I canceled my interview with the agency and decided to stay with the firm. I know cases settle and nothing is guaranteed, but the job I am doing is not a traditional contract attorney job. The cases already settled and I am basically tying up loose ends. There is no rush for the firm or clients and they prefer the pace that I am working at. Also, this firm is VERY flexible. I was told that I could walk out the door tomorrow - no need for notice or anything. Plus, it would be a lot easier for me to go on interviews if any should arise in the next two years.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
1:29 here, I canceled my interview with the agency and decided to stay with the firm. I know cases settle and nothing is guaranteed, but the job I am doing is not a traditional contract attorney job. The cases already settled and I am basically tying up loose ends. There is no rush for the firm or clients and they prefer the pace that I am working at. Also, this firm is VERY flexible. I was told that I could walk out the door tomorrow - no need for notice or anything. Plus, it would be a lot easier for me to go on interviews if any should arise in the next two years.

11:02 AM

************************
I think you made a wise decision - you are doing something that makes you marketable. I am sorry that it comes at a low rate, but hopefully you have benefits and can use this position as a launching pad. I took a temp assignment for 6 months at a government agency and when that office reorganized, I was hired as a perm employee. I wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

News Watch
Punch the Clock


New York Lawyer
January 21, 2009
Reprints & Permissions

By Julie Kay
The National Law Journal

Subscribe to The National Law Journal - 30 Days Free!

As law firms downsize, laid-off attorneys and new law school graduates unable to find jobs have been turning to an option they may never have imagined in law school: becoming contract attorneys at $35 an hour.

Yet in the past couple of months, even that field appears to be showing signs of a slowdown.

Blogs devoted to the topic of contract attorneys are rife with complaints about the lack of work, particularly in New York and Washington; sudden ending of jobs that were supposed to be long term; and the demise of such formerly standard perks as free lunches and car fare.

"The combination of the economic climate as well as the year-end and the change in administration has had an impact on our business," said Andy Jewel of Hudson Legal, which has offices in 11 cities, including New York. "With the change in administration, any government investigation or other regulatory work is generally put on hold until the new people are in place. Work has been slow."

Also cutting into their business is the growing popularity of outsourcing to India. Hudson Legal has countered with an ad campaign that encourages law firms to "onshore," and choose U.S. staffing companies where there are no security or privacy concerns and where they operate in the Eastern time zone.

Several legal staffing companies have closed or are about to close in Washington, D.C., according to one staffing company owner who declined to be identified, as well as blog reports. One company that recently closed its Washington office is Atlanta-based Cambridge Partners.

Bonnie Klein, director of contract legal services for Cambridge, called the Washington market "saturated" and said the economy was partially to blame for her company's closing its office in the nation's capital about three months ago. The Atlanta market is also "very slow," she said.

However, the company, using lessons learned from Washington, is opening a New York office in a strategic partnership with another firm.

"We expect a lot of work associated with the bailout will boost business in New York," said Ms. Klein.

Contract, or temporary, attorneys are hired to assist law firms or companies with specific jobs and are paid hourly rates. The work, which is either done at the staffing company's offices or at the client's offices, is low-level document review. The going rate in New York and Washington is $35 an hour, and about 10 percent below that in cities like Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Contract attorneys appear a discontented lot. A host of blogs have popped up railing about life as a contract attorney, including Temporary Attorney: The Sweatshop Edition; Document Review, Texas Style; Black Sheep of Philly Contract Attorneys; and My Attorney Blog: The Life of a Contract Attorney in Temp Town, Washington D.C.

Resounding with complaints about working conditions at temp agencies, including cockroaches and a lack of air conditioning, nosediving fees and tax nightmares, as well as advice about which agencies to avoid, the blogs do not paint a pretty picture of life as a contract attorney.

But one contract attorney who works at Ryley Carlock & Applewhite in Phoenix has a different perspective. More of a staff attorney, but without most benefits, George Hopwood has worked at the firm for three years, since moving to Phoenix from the Northeast.

Ryley Carlock has an entire document-review department and treats lawyers there more as employees but without benefits, inviting them to company parties and housing them in offices at the firm. The group includes retired judges, new law school graduates and midcareer lawyers like Mr. Hopwood.

Despite the fact that he has to buy his own health insurance, Mr. Hopwood said he enjoys the work. He says the pay - somewhere between $35 to $45 an hour - can translate into six figures for hard workers. And he likes the work, gets to interact directly with clients and enjoys the flexibility of being able to take several-week breaks between projects if he desires.

But Mr. Hopwood, who is single, acknowledges that the work might not be right for lawyers with families to support who need full benefits and more job security.

"Would someone want to do this for a total career? Maybe not," he said. "For folks just starting out, they may want to do it for a few years. But I think it's a really good and emerging field, and it works really well for me."

Matt Clarke, a shareholder at Ryley Carlock, said his firm started its document-review department in 2005 in an attempt to maintain a more fair, healthier way of doing document review.

Most of the 40 attorneys in the department are veteran attorneys - retired in-house counsel, former judges and partners and law school instructors. These attorneys are essentially full-time employees with all benefits except health insurance. In addition, the firm may hire 10 to 20 temporary attorneys for big jobs.

"I've read the blogs, and we just felt it was not healthy for us, for the profession or the clients if there's a bad environment," Mr. Clarke said. "We decided, let's do it different, to compete with the . . . agencies. I hope our document-review attorneys feel part of the firm."

Mr. Clarke said he asks the attorneys at annual meetings if they would prefer health insurance or "a few more bucks an hour." The majority chose higher rates, he said.

Pressure to Cut Rates

Several large staffing agencies acknowledged being pressured by law firms, which are being squeezed by their clients, to lower rates. Most acknowledge that they are starting to succumb to that pressure, but trying to hold the line at $35 an hour in the big cities.

"There does seem to be pressure to have the rates drop, either directly from the corporate clients or from law firm clients," said Richard Osman, co-owner of Lexolution, a New York-based legal staffing agency. "We do what we have to do. Our margins have come under pressure. We work with clients to help them in this environment."

But Mr. Osman said his firm is "sharing the burden" with contract attorneys by decreasing his profit margins.

Rob Singer of New York-based De Novo Legal Services agreed that "there will be continued pressure on costs. The firms that will succeed are those that are producing quality yet still are able to be creative on pricing." Mr. Singer has witnessed meals, car fare and other perks disappear in recent months.

Jeannette Derby, owner of Legal eStaffing in Washington, also is feeling pressure to lower rates. But law firms can usually persuade the clients that $35 an hour is worth it for quality, experienced attorneys, she said. Still, Ms. Derby acknowledges having paid $32 an hour on some jobs, she said.

Howrey is one law firm that uses a large number of contract attorneys, and acknowledges pushing staffing agencies for better rates as of late. The Washington-based firm has a minimum of 75 contract attorneys on the job on any given day and has had as many as 350 with large merger matters.

"We use them in the discovery process," said Ralph Allen, chief operating officer of Howrey. "We don't normally put a $300-an-hour or $400-an-hour associate on first-level document review. We have a process where staff attorneys and associates are monitoring and driving this process, supervising these folks. It lowers the costs for our clients tremendously."

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