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.