The Contract Attorney Experience – Survivor Meets Groundhog’s Day

Sometimes I get asked by non legal types what it’s like working as a contract attorney. The mental picture that best describes it is a combination between CBS’ Survivor and Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day, where everyday keeps repeating itself endlessly.


Contract work is by definition not a permanent proposition. You move from project to project and longevity can be difficult to predict sometimes. I’ve been on projects where I was brought on to serve for several months. Only one disorganized week later the project was already over. The opposite has happened before too. I was brought on for a projected 4 week project, and 6 months later I was still there with no end in sight.

Like the Survivor reality show where contestants have to live on a tropical island and remain in the competition for as long as possible before getting voted off by other contestants, I just try to stay on board my project as long as possible before bouncing.

Projects can be unpredictable and oftentimes there is little feedback to let you know where you stand and what’s the current status of the project. You just keep working until someone tells you to stop.

But sometimes you can tell something is going to happen when the natives start to get antsy and restless. When the project is near its last legs, some of your co-workers will inevitably start panicking and start talking like Armageddon has arrived, while frantically dialing their agencies for salvation. Why the panic? From experience they should know that rolling over onto another project is a common and likely occurrence, whether it be with the same agency or a different one. I’ve never had a voluntary gap between projects longer than a few weeks.

So long as you get along with your Survivor workmates, do good work and put in decent hours, you won’t be voted off the document review island. No one wants to get the dreaded announcement or phone call that the project is over for them. Play it clean and you will likely survive another day.

I try to stay away from childish office politics although I enjoy watching them unfold. It gets particularly entertaining when I see female contract attorneys bicker to death about the most trivial and ridiculous things such as thermostat temperature. I’m almost hoping they will start something with each other just to break the monotony, which brings me to my second point.

Groundhog’s Day

In the world of contract attorneys, everyday is the same.

Hmm…let’s see, what did I do today at work? I came in, got my free Flavia coffee, sat down and clicked away at my workstation. What did I do yesterday? I came in, got my coffee, sat down, and clicked away. And the day before? Basically the same. It’s true, contract attorney work is not very exciting. The social interactions I have with other temps are the highlights of my day.

If you want to be in court or interact frequently with clients, this is not the line of work for you. Everyday is basically the same. I have a hard time distinguishing one work day from another sometimes. Although I do want to point out that it’s not really that much different from my past jobs frankly. In my last full time attorney job before working as a contract attorney I often experienced the same deja-vu feeling, so this is nothing particularly new.

But if you’re like me and understand that this is just a stress free way to make a living and fund your side projects, while still having time to pursue your other professional and personal goals, it’s not so bad.

2 Responses to “The Contract Attorney Experience – Survivor Meets Groundhog’s Day”

  1. Knight Temp-lar Says:

    You forgot the Matrix. Aside from staring at a screen all day, we’re basically just batteries that are plugged in to bill hours, with secondary importance on the actual substance of our work.

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