Archive for the 'Time Off' Category

Still Stuck On The Same Gig And Starting To Forget What It’s Like To Be Between Projects

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Contract attorney work, particularly when it only involves document review can be mind numbingly boring sometimes. If I didn’t pride myself on having several extra curricular and non contract attorney related ventures on the side, I think I’d go crazy. It really is the same thing day in and day out.

But yes, I’ve been lucky to have remained on the same project for so long – my current assignment has truly been the never ending project. I’ve had to continuously put off long vacations until the project’s over since well, in this line of work, you never really know when or how long your next gig will be. When the end date will arrive is anyone’s guess as I have given up trying to speculate on when that will be. This project has really exceeded my durational expectations so anything more is just bonus gravy at this point. I’m justing taking it week by week.

Despite My Occasional Appreciation Of The Profession’s Flexibility, It’s Been Nice Having More Than Half A Year Of Occupational Stability

It’s been such a long contract attorney gig that I’m actually starting to forget what it was like not being on a project, and having to periodically scramble ever so often to find assignments. Having this semblance of stability for more than 6 months now is starting to make me feel like I’m working a permanent job – but of course, in reality the ride can end at any time. Unforeseen and unexpected occurrences like the client company being bought out or other settlement type activity can easily halt the project on the spot and send us contract attorneys packing for home. I guess I’m just getting lulled into a perceived but illusory sense of financial continuity. But this has got to be the most laid back, least stressful project I’ve ever been on before. The associates are incredibly lax about production numbers and the off site location allows everyone to maintain a very collegial and relaxed working environment.

I almost long for something different to happen. I feel like Tom Hank in the movie Cast Away. Yes I have co-workers but most of the time I just come in, sit at my desk, put on my headphones, and listen to talk radio while I click away. Some of the other contract attorneys talk but I guess I’m one of the more quieter ones, preferring to only look up when someone wants to talk about the Express paper crossword puzzle or when people want to quiz each other from questions pulled from the communal Trivia Pursuit box. Clearly, it’s been pretty humdrum around here. Previously the project was much larger with more people to interact with but since a few months ago, the project has been significantly downsized with only about a quarter of us left. Strangely the end is still seemingly nowhere in sight and after speaking to the associates, it seems like none of the partners are in any particular rush to impose urgent deadlines to the case. Even the associates don’t seem to be particularly stressed or busy with work as I frequently find a few of them reading authoritative news sources like The Onion or doing online clothing shopping.

Since I’m a contract attorney doing document review, I’m in the back end when it comes to being in the know about the progress and status of the case. I basically just click until someone tells me to stop. For such a cushy job, the wage rate is remarkably high, but it’s starting to fall behind in terms of keeping up with inflation and wage increases in other sectors.

Uh Oh, Your Project Is Over. Now What Do You Do?

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Projects come and go but it’s always a bummer when they end unexpectedly. I think as much as contract attorneys like to convince themselves that the project might go on and on for months or years, the reality is that many projects don’t last past 3 months, although some do. Many frequently end all of a sudden when you least expect it, so it’s best to be prepared for the inevitable.

But perhaps you’ve already laid out your financial projections based on the durational estimates given to you by your staffing agency. Haven’t you learned anything? These agency projections are frequently inaccurate and can’t be relied upon. Learn to trust your own instincts and the whispers you hear from the daily contract attorney rumor mill instead. To be ready for the unexpected but inevitable end, have a game plan to ride out the expected gaps between legal assignments. I’ve learned a few possible options and pointers after months working in the Town Town grind.

You May Want To Consider These When You Are Between Contract Attorney Projects:

  1. File For Unemployment Benefits Right Away – The second the project is declared to be over, file for unemployment benefits immediately. Even if you plan on seeking another project right away, you never know for sure – so it’s best to file just to be on the safe side. In D.C. there is a one week waiting period before your unemployment benefits kick in so it’s better to file earlier than later. The maximum $359 pretax you can currently receive in benefits per week goes a long way in helping you take care of unavoidable expenses like rent and mortgage. Don’t miss out on your entitlement.
  2. Interview With Agencies You Haven’t Registered With – It’s important to diversify your staffing agency portfolio. Don’t just limit yourself to the brand name agencies like Update or Ajilon/Staffwise, but branch out into the smaller firms like Delta Group or Solomon-Page. Remember, not all agencies have an equal hand in staffing specific projects so it’s always best to maximize your contacts.
  3. Search For Contract Projects – I recommend mass emailing all of your favorite staffing agencies to ask if there are projects currently available or if there are any planned projects in the pipeline. If you’re already registered with the agency, there’s no need to draft a fancy email, so just get straight to the point – what you’re looking for and when you are ready. I suggest emailing or calling daily if you’re adamant about rolling over right away.
  4. Search For Full Time Permanent Positions – If temp life is no longer for you, you can start your job search during your down time. Good luck, it’s an extremely tough market for attorneys now due to the over-saturation of law students and law schools.
  5. Take On A Few Pro Bono Cases – Have you considered taking on a few pro-bono cases with the DC Bar? It’s an invaluable way to get real world experience in legal practice, particularly if there’s a field you’ve always wanted to enter.
  6. Brush Up On the Law Or Learn More About Another Field To Increase Your Skill Set – Clicking away daily at your computer station, your legal skills will inevitably start to get rusty. It doesn’t hurt to take some time brushing up on the legal basics again. I always read my bar magazines, and enjoy tracking legal developments in the news and following legal blogs like the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.
  7. Register A Domain And Create Your Own Professional Self Promotional Website – Most attorneys are notoriously slow when it comes to math and computers. That’s probably one of the reasons why we all ended up choosing to attend law school. But if you ever intend to start a solo practice or perform some type of legal practice, it doesn’t hurt to start up your own professional website. At the very least you should try to reserve your chosen domain name before someone else of the same name does. Most attorneys use their own name in the domain address with “law” following it, e.g. johndoelaw.com (which interestingly is still available at the time of this writing). I suggest reserving your domain name and hosting it using popular internet registration sites like GoDaddy or DreamHost (the one I use), but there are many others.
  8. Chill, Relax, and Enjoy Your Time Off – I personally use the time I have off between projects as my built-in vacation time. Rather than rolling over immediately I occasionally like to take a few days or weeks off to unwind and rest my carpel tunneled right wrist from all that clicking. It’s one of the many curses and blessings of contract attorney work – although we don’t always get to determine exactly when we have time off, we have the luxury of having longer voluntary time off gaps throughout the working year.

Working As a Contract Attorney Requires A Lot Of Faith

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

I’m not trying to get religious but I just want to draw an analogy (maybe it’s a bit of a stretch). Ever heard the phrase – “there are no atheists in foxholes”? Well then similarly, there are no atheists in Temp Town. If you’re not one who can comfortably rely on a degree of positive faith that a project will find its way to you again after your current project is over, then you will likely be under frequent and persistent anxiety in the contract attorney world.

With Contract Work Just Learn To Embrace The Fact That It Is Unpredictable

Contract legal work is very fickle. There is very little durational or job description guarantees. When an agency submits you for a project and promises you 2-3 months work of solid work, the duration terms frequently and do change depending on project conditions. I’ve had 3 month projects turn into 1 week ones, and even a 2 month assignment drag into a 9 month mess. It all depends on the project activity.

This is just the trade-off and essence of contract work. Law firms and corporations hire contract attorneys for short to medium duration assignments because it is more cost effective than retaining a fleet that might not be needed for long durations due to unexpected or indefinite work flow.

When I first started doing this work, I used to always gripe and blame the agencies for falsely advertising and misleading me into taking on a particular assignment that ultimately turned out to be significantly shorter than was originally projected, meanwhile forcing me to give up other opportunities. I think there are a few tricky agencies that do try to inflate the expected hours and duration to snag a few contract attorneys for project submission, but on the whole, I’m not certain that even agencies really know just how long a particular project will last. You should always try to take an agency’s duration estimates with a grain of salt. Don’t nail down irrevocable vacation plans based on their estimations because these type of details tend to waiver. Some agencies are bigger inflaters than others – if they tell me the project will last 2 months, that’s essentially code for 3-4 weeks. If they announce a one month project, be prepared to be there for only 2-3 weeks. It takes some getting used to but the more contract experience you have under you belt, the better your B.S. detector gets.

But It’s All About Knowing That There Will Be Something For You After Your Current One Is Over

As for my expectations of where I’ll end up after the project is over, that is all up to faith – but it’s not blind faith. It’s based on my own previous experience and knowledge about the condition of the market. From my past experience I know that projects are almost always available but that sometimes it may take a few days or a few weeks longer to roll from one into the other. There is no sense in flipping out or panicking when the project is finished. Hopefully you had prudently saved up enough funds to carry you over during periods of downtime and have wisely filed for temporary unemployment benefits to cushion the momentary financial hit. Don’t fret so hard because a project will come knocking soon enough. There is always something going down in lawyer central. Even during recessive periods, there will always be some form of business or legal activity happening in the D.C. metro area.

If you feel like you are waiting around for a long while, take the time to interview and register with the multitude of smaller legal staffing agencies that are popping up everyday. The small fries want to earn your business too so give them a chance by speaking to them during your down time. I’ve found that smaller agencies tend to be more customer oriented than the big agency conglomerates. Of course, faith and expectation only applies to big contract attorney cities like Washington D.C. and New York. Contract legal jobs and projects are not as plentiful or predictably present elsewhere.