Why Lawyers Are the New Sweatshop Workers
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Let's talk about the life of a contract attorney.
Contract attorneys are the new temps of the legal world, lawyers who move from job to job getting paid an hourly rate doing bulk, low skill work like reading documents and filling out forms. The positions are short term, never lasting longer than the needs of a specific case, and pay more than an average internship only by virtue of the fact that few interns actually get paid.
Although prices may vary, these positions generally pay $20 - $30 an hour, wages competitive with crippling debt to consider too.
The rise of contract attorneys is one of the starkest examples of the gradual collapse of the old order. Once, work as a lawyer meant entry into a solid, stable profession with good pay and reliable hours. Few would ever get rich, but even fewer would get laid off, and it came with the country club prestige of being a professional. When Bill Watterson needed a boring, reliable character to play Calvin's dad, he chose a lawyer .
That was then. Today, boring would be something enviable.
Since the economic collapse in 2009, the number of contract attorneys has exploded. Part of this is a consequence of belt tightening at many major firms. Although billables have gone down, prompting a bloodbath among young lawyers, major litigation still requires thousands of tedious man hours to pour over documents and search for anything relevant to an ongoing case.
Part of the problem is also a growing unwillingness on the part of clients to pay top billing rates for that kind of work. Most major firms pay entry level associates $160,000 every year for their work and charge their clients accordingly. Typically a first year associate will "bill out" at $300 to $400 an hour for his work, rates that clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for someone to read 10,000 documents and mark "privileged" or not on them.
This is especially true given the low-skill nature of such work. Having spent many hours on document review myself, the only thing stopping a college student from picking up the job for beer money is ABA requirements. While law firms rely on high numbers of hours charged by young associates to prop up their profits, clients are increasingly attracted to third-party contract shops offering to do the same work at nearly a quarter of the price. The result has been a quiet exodus of jobs from reliable if overworked full time positions to equally overworked migratory ones.
Over the past five years conditions for a contract attorney have become downright Dickensian.