I’m Not a Child So Stop Treating Me Like One

I would like to think that I am an educated, professional adult. After all, I studied hard through college, graduated from a top tier law school, and passed the bar on the first try. I’ve worked hard in everything I’ve done, whether it was a clerkship position, in government, doing litigation, or even document review work.

However, as a contract attorney, sometimes I forget that I am an adult, let alone a trained attorney with past working experience. There are many moments in this line of work that sometimes make me feel like I am not a real lawyer.

Based on my experience in the last few years, some legal staffing agencies seem to feel the need to run their projects like a day care for adults. They monitor our actions, track our minutes like an obsessive parent, and even mandate the use of bathroom passes to account for our billing accuracy. How is one supposed to feel like an adult when your supervisors require you to sign in and sign out for even brief activities like performing a routine bodily function. In high school I had to raise my hand to request a pass to use the bathroom because the teacher didn’t want students randomly wandering the halls. But when college and law school finally rolled by, the permission requirement went out the window since the expectation was that we should now be responsible enough to monitor our own actions. It is almost comical how things have regressed since then.

Feeling Like I Am Working At a Daycare For Grown-Ups

I was on this one project where one of the head agency administrators actually felt the need to come before everyone and make a long winded speech about the agency’s zero tolerance policy towards anything that could be remotely construed as controversial. I’m not just talking about things that are patently wrong either, such as sexual harassment. But the insinuation was that any joke or comment within earshot of someone that could remotely be considered offensive would not be tolerated and would result in prompt firing.

Such stringent rules leave little room for much social interaction outside of clicking away at one’s workstation. It makes things even worse when they’ve taken away internet access. The only thing I can really think about when I’m on one those types of projects is to hope that it ends sooner rather than later so that I can find another one that offers a better working environment.

I think experienced contract attorneys can offer a lot of review experience and guidance to supervising associates, who are frequently novices to managing document review projects, but when working conditions are so stifling, it severely discourages people like me from really caring about the case at all. I like to feel that my work is appreciated, but when it is not and conditions are terrible, I really have little motivation to be involved.

It Can Be a Bit Sweatshoppish Sometimes

Once in a while, associates or agency strongmen will pull us aside to discuss our numbers – basically your productivity level compared to the other members of the contract attorney team. It’s amazing the degree of data they keep a running tally of. Many document review programs are able to compile user information into neatly diagrammed charts that can track when and how often you code documents to determine your level of productivity. Unproductive workers are usually quickly canned. Every time I am pulled aside to discuss my numbers, I feel sort of like a little garment industry worker being called into my boss’ office to explain why I’m not hitting my button sewing target number.

At the same time though, I understand there has to be a mechanism to keep productivity and quality up, and perhaps it’s just the linear nature of contract attorney work that makes it very mechanical and numbers based, but I wish there was a more professional and befitting way of handling it.

But come to think of it, even big law firm associates have their own numbers too. They have pressing billable hours they must meet and they too have partners who will pull them aside when their numbers are below par and not up to snuff. In this world unless you are at the top, you’re really just an ordinary cog in a giant working wheel.

3 Responses to “I’m Not a Child So Stop Treating Me Like One”

  1. LCC Says:

    Thank you! That is the one thing I find irritating about contracting, is the adult homeroom class atmosphere that some of these projects generate. The constant monitoring, announcements of some new restriction, almost infantile restrictions as to where you go or when you go. Instead of dealing directly with the person or persons who are problems, the administrative part of the firm comes down on everyone. The contempt that some of these adminstrators of the contract attorney projects have towards contract attorneys is so obvious. I knew I had hit a new level of funny on an assignment several months back that had just two attorneys on it. Neither of us even felt comfortable talking to each other because they had three attorneys, in shifts, sitting in the tiny space with us all day. Of course, the attorneys were working on other matters. We would walk out together and figure out how fast can we get this done. Needless to say, that is one firm I will not try to work with again!

  2. Joseph Says:

    I know how you feel. The description of your work place sounds identical to mine. The only difference is your some what more qualified than me, and I work in a call center.

    Seems that education is a bit of a wast, 99% of folk all end up do the same rubbish. Plenty in call centers all have degrees for something or other.

    Just think, you can look forward to death…

  3. Charlie Delta Says:

    Firms and agencies will push us around as much, and as long, as we let them. They can keep us off balance and scared because we don’t have a collective voice. They count on lawyers to be individualists, even though the firms and agencies are collective organizations wielding the combined economic power of many investors. We have to operate the same way.

    If we complain individually about the unreasonable hours, constantly-falling wages, and demeaning conditions, they don’t even have to fire us: they can just tell us “Your project is over,” and then just never call us for another one. The only solution is for us to do what the carpenters, ‘longshoremen, and other casual workers did long ago: organize.

    If we’re intelligent, we can do that in a way that won’t expose us to black-listing and won’t just lose us our jobs.

    If you’re interested in helping develop a plan for a democratic and intelligent law temps’ organization (I’m not interested in getting everybody fired), write me at charliedeltaesq(at)gmail.com. Don’t give me your real name or anything else that’ll identify you (you don’t know who I am, after all. We’ll exchange information later, when it’s safe), but give me an email address that you’ll check.

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