Archive for November, 2007

Thoughts and Observations On Contract Attorney Work in Los Angeles

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Contract attorneys are everywhere. Wherever there is an over saturation of law schools, you can be sure there are attorneys who have turned to temporary lawyer work to make ends meet. Although my musings are based mostly on my own active temping experience in the Washington D.C. area, I occasionally like to share what I’ve learned from those who perform contract work in other big hubs such as New York City and Los Angeles.

The contract attorney experiences of those in New York City tend to be a bit nuttier and off the wall than those in other locations. I’m not sure if this is because of the type of people who do contract work in New York or because I’ve only been exposed to a skewed and limited cross section of opinions, but New York City projects seem to be in a weird world by itself. But for this entry let me just discuss what I’ve learned so far about the L.A. contract attorney experience.

Differences Between Los Angeles. and Washington D.C.

I have a friend who has worked in both Washington D.C. and now in the city of L.A. as a contract attorney, so I decided to ask about the differences between working in these two locations. My friend also solicited comments from current L.A. contract attorney co-workers and here are a few interesting observations:

  1. L.A. contract attorneys spend 2-3 hours driving in traffic every day to get to work and spend a ton of money on unsubsidized parking and on the nation’s priciest gas. Most of the work is centralized in the city or on the west-side so getting in and out is a daily nightmare. In D.C., commuting by car is difficult but not impossible. Many choose to avoid D.C. traffic altogether by taking the more convenient Metro subway trains. Yes, they seem to have a propensity to break down and spark mini fires, but they generally run predictably.
  2. Subsidized limousine and taxi rides are unheard of for L.A. contract attorney projects. With the nation’s most congested highways and longest commute times it’s not hard too see why subsidized rides home wouldn’t work in L.A. Washington D.C. and New York City are more compact and many live in the city – so it’s a more workable option for the latter two.
  3. Projects in excess of 50 hours are rare in L.A. I’ve worked 95 hour projects in D.C. but apparently in L.A., such lucrative extended overtime hour projects are almost unheard of. I’m sure they exist, but they are just very few and far between. D.C. and NYC tend to get the bulk of the juicy long hour projects.
  4. Catered meals are not common in L.A. either, although they are the exception not necessarily the rule here in D.C. They are usually offered by agencies and firms to encourage contract attorneys to stay at work longer so you’re more likely to receive catered meals or subsidies when the project office hours extend into the late evening. Since L.A. projects tend to have shorter hours, there is less need or motivation for agencies and law firms there to provide them.
  5. The L.A. contract attorney market is very unpredictable and stagnant right now. Welcome to the unstable world of contract attorneys! It’s like that everywhere, although D.C. and NYC tend to have more established and predictable contract attorney job outlooks. Even in a tough economy like this though there are still projects to be had. You just have to dig deeper but they’re out there.
  6. There are many non-California barred attorneys doing contract work in L.A. I’m not familiar with California’s bar requirements, but unlike Washington D.C., California does not seem to overwhelmingly require contract attorneys to be barred in their own state. At least not yet.
  7. Wage rates in L.A. average around $35 but sometimes they can be as low as $30. Factoring in the high cost of living there, it’s not hard to see why L.A.’ers get the short end of the bargain. Here in D.C. it’s pretty stable at $35 although I’m hoping it’ll rise sometime. NYC seems to have the highest wage rate, but their cost of living is astronomical as well.
  8. Overtime regulations in California differ from D.C.’s. In D.C. contract attorneys get overtime of time and a half for hours worked in excess of 40 cumulatively for the week. In California, they get time and a half overtime after working 8 hours every day up to and including 12 hours. They get double rate after 12 hours. Good deal, except they never get to fully take advantage of it due to their mostly low hour projects.
  9. Apparently, there are many contract attorneys in L.A. who are also part time aspiring actors, writers, and movie producers. Surprise, it’s L.A. where everyone thinks they are a model or an up and coming actress, hoping to get discovered. Not too many of those in D.C. although I’ve seen and met a few contract attorneys who are always working on their novels and hoping to get published someday.
  10. On the whole, L.A. projects tend to be well managed and not very “sweat-shoppy” as my friend put it. I think D.C. projects are generally well managed as well, although there is at least one agency here that enjoys running their projects like a boot camp.

The verdict? Contract attorney work in Washington D.C. pays better, offers better hours, better perks, and offers greater stability with more project opportunities than our brethren enjoy on the west coast. Although I must point out that over there they have much better weather and much better places to eat than here in D.C.

Back To Work Again – My Extended Time Off Will Have To Wait

Monday, November 26th, 2007

Well it’s another manic Monday and after a relaxing but much too short Thanksgiving weekend, it’s back to the old click-click grindstone again.

I didn’t really do anything terribly exciting during the holiday weekend but it was a very appreciated rest for the weary. I thought about it but ultimately decided against joining in the Black Friday shopping craze. Those hardcore shoppers are too tough for me and I think my time would be better spent shopping online. Luckily, the associates are out again as usual and we are only about half staffed since many contract attorneys are still out, presumably still suffering from the post holiday I-Don’t-Wanna-Go-Back-To-Work-Wah-Wah syndrome. I totally understand their sentiments. Since work is so slow today, I’ll probably sneak in break time to do some online holiday shopping at my work station and take advantage of post Thanksgiving deals – Cyber Monday they call it.

It’s Not Always Easy Planning Extended Breaks While A Contract Attorney Project Is Still Ongoing

I haven’t taken substantial time off in a long while and this winter I would like to but I think my plans will have to wait a little while longer. My project continues to be extended and now it’s looking like it will last well into the new year. Contract attorney work is generally flexible but its fickle nature sometimes means that vacation plans have to be put on hold until the project has completely run its course. Contract work pays the bills and as much as I’d like to say with all confidence that jumping from one project to another seamlessly is a piece of cake, you never really know for sure.

The temporary lawyer job market ebbs and flows and currently the market is severely dehydrated. Numerous smaller projects are out there, but the key mega ones are a bit lacking right now. I think the real estate mortgage mess and the resulting credit crisis is causing corporations and law firms alike to be more conservative with their business plans. With less corporate activity happening, there is less demand for contract attorneys. But fear not, although the market is slow right now even in a normally active place like D.C., if you follow the contract attorney job forums and postings like I do, you will notice that there still remains a respectable number of active projects. Hopefully the start of a few big projects at one well known firm in the Falls Church area will serve as a catalyst to get things busy around here again.

Delaying Extended Vacations Plans Till Later

Since my working opportunities might be unpredictably murky after this project is over, I think it’ll probably be better for me to pocket the income now when the going is good and still available. Although I generally have day to day working freedom, unlike those who have permanent positions I don’t have the luxury of paid vacations and the security of knowing that my position will still be here when I return. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I’ve been generally lucky so far in being able to roll over consistently from project to project on my own terms, but the gravy train might end one day. Maybe eventually my acceptance and patience for this type of high-income-but-unstable line of work will run out, but for now it fits my lifestyle and financial plans.

Okay, back to online shopping, I mean work. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving – Remember to Keep Your Priorities Straight

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Life is full of so many stresses and pressures, and it’s easy to get all caught up in the negatives and lose sight of its many positives. Let’s all try to keep our priorities straight this Thanksgiving. I hope those of you who decided to put in extra overtime hours during this paid holiday can try to make it home by the end of dinnertime to share in some of your family’s Thanksgiving festivities. Money is certainly very important and I do understand why many of us choose to work those extra hours, but please don’t forget that while money is replaceable and frequently fleeting, good family and friendships are not.

Have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving everyone! Remember to eat hearty – you can work off the pounds later on the treadmill. 🙂