Archive for the 'Issues' Category

The Great Law School and Law Firm Scam

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Disregard Anything Positive I’ve Ever Said About Contract Attorney Work – I’ve Finally Come To My Senses

It has been over a year since I posted here and much has happened. For one thing, I’m no longer a contract attorney. In fact, I’m not even practicing law anymore, although I’ve held onto my two existing bar memberships, paying the annual dues for old times sake – perhaps just so I can continue to call myself a lawyer (for whatever it’s worth).

Since then, I’ve moved onto other lines of work – most notably I’ve started several online businesses – and have found the Internet to be quite a treasure trove of money making opportunities. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to do quite well online.

For my fellow contract attorneys and tempers still working the salt mines of click-click land, my advice is to get out while you still can. Times are bleak, pay is low, and working hours are getting shorter by the minute – but the legal working situation for temp attorneys is also not going to get any better anytime soon. Contract attorney work is not only a dead end job career wise – but it’ll suck out your soul, pummel your pride, and leave you financially depleted years from now. If you can, try to strike it out on your own as a full fledge attorney. I know it’s incredibly difficult to compete in a market that’s super saturated and getting worse every day, but you must try – for sanity sake. I continue to curse the law school system to this day and continuously pray for numerous plagues to afflict the overrated law firms that choke our social system – but at some point, it’s time to move on to greener (or in my case, less-brownish) pastures.

And read Tom The Temp‘s blog regularly – he’s a morbid dose of social pessimissm and legal comedy for contract attorneys all rolled into one. He’ll bring you down and pick you up at the same time. Misery always loves company and there’s plenty of misery to go around.

The Bar Goes After A Contract Attorney For Overbilling – Hypocrisy Or The Right Move?

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Overbilling has always been a problem in the legal community among law firm associates, law firm partners, and even contract attorneys alike. Such matters have traditionally been either overlooked or summarily resolved internally due to the prevalent nature of the practice among all tiers of law firm practice from top to bottom. However, rather than starting at the top and addressing the pervasive padding and markup fraud among the high priced partners and associates at many of the big law firms, the disciplinary arm of the Illinois State Bar has decided to target one particular contract attorney for his indiscretions, sparking debate and denounces of hypocrisy.

According to the official bar complaint, the respondent contract attorney signed an agreement with Ajilon Legal Staffing to perform contract attorney work for the law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw. The contract attorney was staffed onto a document review project that paid $35 per billable hour. His work was performed on an online document review system that presumably tracked his review activity. During the 2 week working period, the respondent submitted time sheets presenting that he worked a total of 135 hours. However, it was later allegedly discovered that he had only actually worked 51 hours and 45 minutes, quite a large discrepancy for such a short period of time. The complaint indicates he was paid $4,725 for his time sheet hours, but that he fraudulently overbilled by $2,913.75, improperly inflating his billable hours by more than 84 hours during that 2 week period.

My Thoughts – Yes There Is A Lot Of Hypocrisy Going On, But Unethical Behavior Is Still Wrong

As a preliminary matter, I think official bar sanctions against this contract attorney would be perfectly warranted if the facts are found to be true. If the allegations are verified and confirmed, it’s difficult to offer him much sympathy due to the specifics of the facts, although I personally feel the case should have been resolved internally. He allegedly overbilled by more than 84 hours in a 2 week period! We’re not talking about tacking on a lazy 1 hour or rounding up to the next 30 minute mark every day. The attorney overbilled by more than 10 full working days, an astonishing number. Calling him a modern day Robin Hood because he robbed from the rich (big firms and agencies) to pay the poor (um, himself?) is a tad misguided. We can find better ways to boost the wage rate and increase project compensation than performing such unethical activity. It’s not that I’m preaching against such activity, I just feel such activity undermines our objectives completely and only serves to make contract attorneys look even worse than some already view us.

However, I’m curious as to what motivated the Illinois State Bar to tackle on this particular case when there are much bigger fish to fry among the denizens of the large law firms where overbilling is a frequent way of life. For example, I’m currently on one of those projects that keeps getting dragged out with little end in sight. After a few conversations with the managing associates, it seems the law firm partners are in no hurry to rush the case so long as they can continue raking in the billable hours. I got the unspoken vibe from the associate that she had no problem with us dragging out our review and continuing to let the firm bill the client, a company that has continued to pay its legal fees without much protest.

If the various state bars wanted to tackle this growing billable hour inflation issue, rather than going after contract attorneys, their resources would be better served going after the chief operators, the law firm partners and senior associates that cave to the pressure of generating billable hours and profits. There is truly a lot of strange hypocrisy going on today in the legal world where deceptive markup practices are prevalent, but its members still talk about fair compensation and billing. While contract attorneys like myself are sometimes offered little in terms of professional movement and prestige – having to fight and scrape for every project and permanent offer opportunity, we are still expected to abide by the high strict standards of professional conduct among full fledge attorneys.

Articles like the ones discussed help to serve as eye openers for contract attorneys. Document review programs do use sophisticated metrics to track worker productivity and usage statistics, so if the firm wanted to, it could certainly verify the accuracy of billable hours. If you do things like round up your hours, it’s important to at least be cognizant that there is indeed a digital trail that is retained. Most cases do seem to go unnoticed, but outrageous violations are bound to be caught – such as the story of this one guy who decided to straddle two different staffing agencies that were staffing the same project. He somehow ended up being separately assigned to the same project location by two different agencies who were unaware that the other agency was also staffing him. The contract attorney ended up collecting two pay checks for some time but was eventually busted. I don’t think bar sanctions were levied but he was summarily let go. Fortunately for him, he was not working or barred in the state of Illinois.