Archive for October, 2007

Why Do I Blog About Working As a Contract Attorney?

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

I was approached recently by a local reporter who wanted to talk to me about what it’s like working as a contract attorney. One of the interesting questions the reporter asked me was why I chose to blog about my life as a contract attorney. My response – because I didn’t see anyone else doing it in the fashion that I wanted or liked.

Contract attorneys enjoy debating and talking among themselves but there really isn’t much of an online outlet for this type of activity. There are a few related online forums but those sites are populated by mostly obscene, wisecracking people. Other sites such as The Posse List and the Yahoo Contract Attorneys Group are legitimate, but they focus on employment and legal staffing. Occasionally they will discuss issues affecting contract attorneys, but that’s not their primary mission.

There are only a few contract attorney blogs out there, most notably the one up in New York City, but his site pulsates too much negativity for me at times, although I admit I am often thoroughly amused and entertained by what he has to say. He’s been blogging for several years now with the same pessimistic message, which makes me wonder at times just how much of it is real and how much is spin. There is some truth sprinkled in his writing, but it just seems a tad too one sided in my opinion.

My Approach Is To Be More Positive

It might be fun to sit around and blast all law firms and staffing agencies about their practices, but after a while it would get old and tiresome. I’m trying to create a site where we can all discuss issues that affect us all. We’re all in this profession together so we might as well pool our thoughts and share with each other the fruits of our experiences. I’ve always greatly enjoyed listening to the advice of the “old timers” in the contract attorney world. Most of them are not old at all, but simply have been doing this work for a long time and frequently have fascinating stories to share.

Eventually I would like to start discussing more controversial topics but currently I am trying to keep above the controversy fray. I am aware that staffing agencies and law firms routinely monitor the blogosphere for content that portray the profession or their firm in a negative light. But I believe strongly in the freedom of speech and the right to exercise it within the reasonable confines of the rules of professional responsibility. I also believe in protecting the privacy of readers. So I welcome the attention and participation of all and hope everyone can learn and improve a thing or two.

My Preliminary Reaction To the Legal Outsourcing Rumors

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

The recent rumors of legal outsourcing have been sending small shivers of concern through the minds of many contract attorneys. I know I’m not immune to it myself. Outsourcing is not a new phenomenon but when it affects your profession, it becomes very personal and real.

Honestly, it is not difficult to see why law firms and corporations would want to move their man power intensive legal work offshore to countries that command much lower wages. By outsourcing their work overseas, law firms and companies can potentially and substantially decrease their cost of intellectual labor. The natural place to outsource document review is India, an English speaking, low wage, and low cost of living destination. Due to tremendous language hurdles, other low labor cost countries like China or Vietnam would not be feasible so India is probably the best bet.

Despite stories of legal outsourcing that we’ve been hearing about recently, why am I not concerned that the outsourcing movement will affect the contract attorney market substantially? That’s because I don’t think the established conservative legal market will readily accept this type of employment and cultural shift. I also don’t think legal work is as easily exportable as other fields that have been outsourced such as customer service and information technology. This is just my own preliminary take on the matter.

The Conservative Legal Culture Will Resist

The world of law firms, partners, and associates is a very old fashioned and traditional profession, steeped in conservative values. Unlike the private corporate world, law firms have been very resistant to modernization of its cultural norms and old ways of doing things. For example, while corporate America has generally embraced a greater push towards diversity in the workplace, law firms have been very resistant to change, as minorities as a whole still comprise less than 10 percent of all attorneys.

Law firm partners are also generally very old fashioned and I feel they will be very resistant to such employment shifts. Law is still practiced the same inefficient way it has always been practiced. It’s only recently that some courts finally began accepting electronic filing for example. The old bigwigs will not be entirely embracing of the idea of sending tons of privileged and confidential legal work product to a third world country and allow some locals, who they will never meet in real life, ready access to such privileged information.

There will be always be trailblazers in the legal field who will attempt to migrate some legal work overseas, but I truly feel this movement hype will ultimately subside.

Other Outsourcing Attempts Have Not Entirely Succeeded

The concept of outsourcing work to a country with cheaper labor costs is nothing new. But the reality is that outsourcing is fraught with serious confidentiality and adaptation difficulties. There is also the hidden cost of customer attrition. Many companies who have tried to outsource their work overseas have not been entirely successful. They have also not reaped the overall financial benefits they initially expected when they began their outsourcing efforts. Many have ultimately brought the work back in-house.

It’s interesting to read a few stories of outsourced work to India but I just don’t see it happening successfully on a grand scale. Instead, I think the greatest long term threat to the current document review attorney market is technology itself. One day, perhaps many years from now, it is possible that reviewers may be replaced by super efficient software that can keyword sort through documents at lightening speed, completing work in a few minutes that would have taken a lawyer hours or days to complete in the past.

The market will continue to adapt over time and so should we.

Contract Attorney Perks

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

I think some people might think receiving free perks at work is a trivial concern but I disagree. There are many aspects of a job that make up the whole work experience. Access to a window view and proximity to a bathroom to name a few.

After all, if you wanted to request an aisle seat on an airplane or be seated in an emergency row for extra legroom, it is your prerogative to do so. Similarly, contract attorneys should take work related benefits into account when selecting projects (assuming the market’s healthy enough to offer the luxury of choosing).

Here are a few a benefits and perks that I always look out for when evaluating the attractiveness of a contract attorney project. Contract attorneys usually work long hours. The benefits help to make the experience more enjoyable.

  1. Internet Access – Some law firms and agencies block out non-work related internet usage to boost productivity. In my opinion, this practice only works to a limited extent. Yes random web surfing will be down but it will be replaced with excessive talking or hallway roaming. I think having internet access is a necessity. I don’t know anyone who can work 10-15 hours straight a day without needing to take an internet break. For the majority of contract attorneys I know, not having internet access is a deal breaker.
  2. Streaming Radio – Sometimes streaming radio is prohibited on certain projects. The reason is that usage of streaming media causes a significant drain on internet bandwidth, causing work related programs to slow down. This is a perk I enjoy but I understand why some firms would want to limit this privilege. It’s just hard to get a clear signal with a traditional hand held radio sometimes.
  3. Earphones Permitted – At least one law firm does not permit document reviewers to wear headphones. Their explanation is that this causes workers to be mentally distracted and hinders the firm’s ability to make announcements and work related updates. I don’t buy their explanation one bit. Document review doesn’t require extensive mental analysis. During times when I need mental clarity, I usually just voluntarily turn off my headset for a moment. There is no need for the firm to regulate this matter.
  4. Free Coffee and Tea – Usually it’s either one of those ubiquitous Starbucks or Flavia machines. On my current project I only have access to free Flavias so I’ve trained myself to drink them. Not the tastiest, but it beats paying $6 for a cup of premium Starbucks.
  5. Free Pizza – At least one legal staffing agency offers free pizza and coke on Fridays. I’m glad they finally switched to Papa Johns from the other company. But is free pizza really a perk that would cinch the deal for you? If it is, then you have some low standards!
  6. Catered Meals – For the single contract attorneys who don’t need to go home to eat dinner with their family, this is a welcomed benefit. Not having to pay for my own meals has allowed me to save up quite a bit. Not having to go out to find food allows me to work more and bill more hours as well.
  7. Reimbursed Meals – I actually prefer this over the catered meals. Agencies usually cater meals from the same caterer. If the project is a long term one, you will get sick of eating the same food after a while, I assure you. You can only eat baked chicken so many times.
  8. Reimbursed Parking – I usually commute by Metro so this one isn’t important for me, but for many who drive, this one is invaluable. Daily parking can be quite expensive in downtown Washington D.C.
  9. Reimbursed Limo or Taxi Rides Home – If you work past a certain time in the evenings, some projects will permit you to have reimbursed access to a free limousine taxi ride home. You might not look like a high roller at your workstation, but at least you can cruise home like one.

Did I miss anything?