Archive for the 'Agencies' Category

How Much Do Contract Attorneys Make In Terms Of Wage Rate?

Sunday, January 13th, 2008

The answer to this question is the same answer that every law school graduate and trained attorney should be prepared to quip for any question they are asked – “it all depends”.

Of course, whether contract attorneys are currently being paid fairly as a whole is another issue entirely. For the purposes of this piece, I’m just making a market observation. Although contract attorneys generally get paid the market rate for their geographical location, there are a variety of other factors that determine whether the offer rate exceeds or fails to reach the generally accepted standard:

  1. Geographical Location – Probably the biggest factor that determines the appropriate market wage rate and compensation for contract attorneys is where the project will be located. Big cities generally get the bulk of the labor intensive contract attorney work, thus they also tend to offer the highest wage rates and most perks.

    New York City and Washington D.C. both currently have the highest rates at $35 an hour with time and a half for overtime. New York City probably flirts in the neighborhood range of $38-40. Any parity with D.C. rates is probably due to oversupply caused by the abundance of city law schools that seem to graduate more and more lawyers every year. Certainly the lack of work due to the current economic recession is causing the job market to noticeably slow down. Disturbingly, many NYC agencies have been taking advantage of the slump by slashing rates, an ominous trend that is frustrating many contract attorneys.

    Los Angeles also offers comparable rates, although the city isn’t exactly overflowing with projects, and the lack of steady gigs always seems to put downward pressure on rates. The smaller doc review cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston get the lower end of the wage scale at around $28-$30 an hour plus time and a half for overtime. That’s likely due to the fact that contract project are not as abundant in those metropolitan areas. See this unofficial but handy wage and salary chart for more info.

  2. Job Description and Role – Most contract attorneys that perform straight document review get the standard rate for their geographical area. However for mega projects, individuals may sometimes be brought on board to serve as team leaders or quality control reviewers. They are not always guaranteed or given a higher rate, but when they are, the rate is usually a few dollars extra at around $37 an hour for D.C.

    Specialized projects that require foreign language knowledge and review skills on the other hand pay substantially more. More common languages like Spanish and French generally pay around $40 an hour. Slightly more obscure languages like Norwegian, Finnish, or Russian pay around $45-50. The premium, most difficult to staff projects involve the Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. Asian language projects can fetch anywhere from $50 to 65 an hour with time and a half for overtime. If you are an attorney that can translate Asian language documents, I encourage you to price gouge your local staffing agency up to $70+ if you can. They will bend over backwards for you and more because your skills are a rarity and in extreme demand.

  3. Bar Status – Interestingly, even though the DC Bar has already opined that being barred in D.C. is a prerequisite to performing contract attorney work in the state, many D.C. agencies still continue to staff projects using non-D.C. barred J.D.’s. However, many agencies do express high preference for those with the proper D.C. license and most will refuse to pay the standard contract attorney rate without it. Expect to be either rejected outright for project submission if you don’t have your D.C. bar certification or be offered only a paralegal’s wage of about $25 an hour.
  4. Experience – Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, contract attorney work consisting of mainly document review does not require substantial legal experience. However, for those of you with more years of document review management experience, you may have more opportunities to be assigned to the privilege review and quality control team. Keep in mind that although it’s sometimes negotiable, usually you aren’t offered any extra compensation for the higher level work. That’s probably why some people avoid second level or privilege review work.
  5. Length Of Project – Longer duration projects tend to pay slightly less than those that have shorter duration, at least initially when agencies are fielding candidate offers. The rationale is that – what you lose in wage rate you gain in longevity. From my experience, most people tend to glaze over the duration aspect and prefer to lock onto projects that offer short sprints of high billable hour opportunities. It’s just something I’ve observed and is not necessarily a consistent occurrence.
  6. Size Of Staffing Agency – Due to their greater bargaining position, bigger staffing agencies are less generous about negotiating with contract attorneys over their wage rates and more willing to withhold benefits and posture. Small potato agencies have little choice but to negotiate sometimes. They can’t compete on brand recognition so they have to offer greater incentives to entice contract attorneys – thus they usually pay more. For a project that a large agency like Ajilon may pay the standard $35 an hour for, a smaller agency may be willing to shell out $36-$38 an hour. Go with the smaller agencies if you can, although it is true, the number of projects they have to offer simply isn’t as high as the big boys.
  7. Market Supply and Demand – When the market’s booming, contract attorneys rake it in. Unfortunately the boom has past and we are currently in a bust period as evidenced by all the recent law firm layoffs. The market is pretty bad right now. There are projects out there but most are for shorter durations and offering less hours. Also, expect to wait longer than usual to come across an offer. Without consecutive, multiple, and simultaneous demands for contract attorneys, wage rates will stagnate in the interim. However, when the market eventually picks up again in the near future and law firm business returns, demand pressure should drive wage rates up. That’s my hope. It’s happened in the past before and it should happen again.
  8. Specific Law Firm Managing the Project – Certain law firms are well known for running generous projects – Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for one. They seem to have a reputation for providing projects that offer full meals, transportation reimbursement, and extended working opportunities for their contract attorneys. They also have a propensity to offer slightly higher wage rates for team leader type positions. Of course, it’s not always this way for every project they manage, but it’s just an interesting tidbit to keep in mind when you hear about projects.

Legal Staffing Agencies Offer Referral Fees and Working Bonuses, But Getting Them To Pay Up Can Sometimes Be A Challenge

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Pouring on the incentives is how placement agencies entice contract attorneys to submit themselves for hard to staff projects. I can always tell when the agencies are having a hard time filling a law firm’s staffing order. The job forums and listservs will be silent but then suddenly explode with an urgent flurry of post traffic with calls for contract workers. The posts will come from different agencies, all attempting to staff the same project and recruit the requisite number of contract attorneys for project submission before their competitors can. When agencies start touting their referral fees and project completion bonuses, you know they are getting antsy about losing the project to some other staffing firm. This is when contract attorneys should swoop in to snag the goodies.

Referral Fees and Working Bonuses Generally

Referral fees vary but are generally around $100-250 per attorney that you refer and takes on an assignment. The newer and smaller agencies tend to offer higher referrals since they need to find ways to steal workers from the big boys. Some of the larger, more established agencies like Compliance prefer to keep their referral policies intentionally fuzzy. If you ask Compliance about their referral rates, they will give you some spiel about how they don’t have a blanket referral fee and usually only give out referrals for certain projects. I find this case by case referral policy to be much too subjective and prone to nonpayment. I hope they will eventually adopt the more transparent referral policies that most of the other agencies offer.

Along with referrals, most agencies also offer billable hour incentive bonuses to encourage you to work more. The policy specifics vary but after you’ve worked a certain number of hours, usually around 400 on average, you are entitled to an 8 hour bonus payable at your usual wage rate ($35 an hour). Most of these bonuses are not automatically paid out so you’ll have to take it upon yourself to actually request them.

Actually Getting the Agency To Fork Over the Bonuses Is Easier Said Than Done

Although agencies like to advertise their referral fees and bonuses when soliciting for contract attorneys, they usually prefer to keep mum about their policies once you are on board. Bonuses are generally not paid out unless you specifically request them so it is your own duty to keep track of your referrals as well as your hours worked, based on the cumulative information found on your pay stubs. Thus after you’ve surpassed the requisite hours, be sure to alert your agency of your entitlement. It’s all part of the contractual bargain made to you when you took on the assignment, so you’re entitled to it. Don’t miss out!

Not all agencies are so ambiguous on this matter. I have to give credit to Special Counsel for their speedy payouts. I’ve referred attorneys to them before and they’ve always paid out very quickly, mailing me a check on the spot even though I wasn’t staffed on a project through them at the time.

Other agencies like Ajilon-Staffwise and Hudson require you to be currently staffed with them at the time of request before they will hand you your referral or billable hour bonus. I fail to see the logic behind this requirement, other than to make it harder for people to get their entitled referral/bonus checks. Don’t be so cheap, legal staffing agencies. We help stock your supply, so the very least you could do is provide the promised compensation rather than reinforce the money grubbing reputation many contract attorneys have of the legal staffing agencies. After all, it’s a symbiotic relationship and we need each other in this contracting business (at least until someone figures out a way to cut out the middle man). 🙂

Reasons Why Your Legal Staffing Agency Is Ignoring Your E-Mails And Calls

Friday, December 7th, 2007

So your project is over…or you are trying to get onto a temporary lawyer assignment for the first time. You’ve been calling all of your legal staffing agencies every day inquiring about available projects but they never seem to return your phone calls or e-mails. Welcome to Temp Town my friend. It happens all the time and drives even project-seasoned grunts like myself nuts. When I first started out a few years ago, I always worried excessively when agencies failed to return my calls or neglected to offer me any updates about project availability. Over the months, I’ve learned to develop a thick skin and a better understanding of why some agencies choose to ignore their bleating contract attorneys.

Why Are The Agencies Showing You No Love:

  1. You’ve Been Blacklisted – This is the worst case scenario but it happens more frequently than people think. There is temporary blacklisting and then there is permanent blacklisting. Temporary banning occurs if you commit an act such as bailing on a project, but can manage to later come up with a relatively credible excuse. The agency may be initially loathe to submit you for further projects but may reconsider in a few months or so, particularly if the market picks up and they are strapped for workers.

    Permanent blacklisting is bad news. This means you’ve done something that has really pissed the agency off or demonstrated that you are an individual that cannot be trusted to handle the duties and responsibilities of the position. Perhaps you severely inflated the hours you worked or you walked off the assignment without a valid excuse. Usually it has to be extreme for the agency to permanently ban you.

    If you’ve been blacklisted, you might not know it for certain but you are likely to never hear from the agency again either through email or phone. They will simply ignore your inquiries. My advice if that happens is to try to get back into their good graces, particularly if it’s an agency that frequently has a lot of good projects. Try to reach a live rep and explain your story with a convincing explanation. Even seemingly permanent blacklistings can be reversed with some fancy verbal spins.

  2. There Are No Projects Available – If there are no contract jobs out there, agencies have no incentive to call back because there is nothing to report. Since there is no financial gain to be had, some may choose to ignore the hordes of people calling in when things are slow. There is always something going on in Contract Attorney Land, but not all agencies have an equal hand in it. It all depends which agency was able to successfully bid out the competing staffing firms. That’s why I recommend registering with a wide range of agencies – so you can maximize your leads and chances.
  3. You Are Not On the Agency’s Preferred Short List For Regular Assignments – Some agencies have a short roll of regular permanent temps they frequently work with as they have built up a good relationship over the years. When the market is slow and projects are harder to come by, agencies will usually turn to their own internal lists to fill staffing needs before blasting out an all public bulletin request for applicants. To get onto the short list you have to butter up your agent over time and become friends.
  4. You Do Not Keep In Touch With Them Often Enough and They’ve Forgotten You – Staffing agents get bombarded with e-mails and calls daily. Here’s one way to look at it – think of the agency as the parent, with a few hundred screaming babies representing contract attorneys. Mom can’t attend to all of the babies at once. If you really want her attention, you had better learn to drag your diaper over there to tug at her pant leg or scream louder than the other toddlers. So, bug the agencies persistently but cordially.
  5. You Are Not Telling the Staffing Agent Which Project You Want To Be Submitted For – Like most employers it makes their job much easier when you tell them exactly which project you want to be a candidate for. Rather than taking the easy route of asking them to submit you for any project, rise to the top of the pile by telling them exactly what you want, e.g. “I want to be submitted for that project down in Fall Church that no one wants,” for example. Or, “please submit me for the project requiring an accounting background because I have the necessary degree qualifications.” I recommend scouring the job forums, the Yahoo Contract Attorney Groups, Craigslist, and the PosseList for leads and then contacting the agency staffing the project in question with directions to submit you for it.
  6. Some Legal Staffing Agencies Focus Mostly On Permanent or Lateral Hires – One notable example would be Kelly Law Registry. They are a big name in the legal staffing world but I’ve rarely seen them staff a contract attorney project. Inquiries for contract attorney positions are likely to go unanswered with similar agencies as well.