Aug 19, 2009
(OT)A Response to ATL's 'Momma, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Contract Attorneys'
…and more specifically, a response to Big Debt, Small Law.
Recently, Above the Law posted on the subject of contract attorneys, specifically those attorneys who work as document reviewers for Big Law firms. They referenced a scathing post by Big Debt, Small Law which focuses in on the grueling and thankless job of ‘document review’. (Someone also forwarded this blog post to me prior to seeing the post on ATL.)
Not really knowing anything about Contract Attorney work from the perspective of someone who does document review in Big Law firms, I point blank asked someone who did document review for a few years directly after law school, if this was in fact what it was like working as a document reviewer at Big Law. Since she did document review for several years at major Big Law firms before she shifted gears, she has clearly earned the right to speak on the subject and even challenge the author of Big Debt, Small Law. I offer her perspective of document review, those she worked with, and more. (She will remain anonymous, so don’t even ask
As for this, now that I have had some time and distance away from the heat of the fire I can probably tell you in a nutshell what I truly think about the topic. Excuse my stream of consciousness here.
It is a caste-system, but one has to accept one’s caste assignment. It isn’t forced upon you. As a licensed attorney, one is free to practice law or not. One is free to sign up for the doc review hustle, or not. You can always sell life insurance or real estate. Or, God forbid, you can actually go solo, get your own clients — and attract an employer –if that’s one’s real goal or dream. Oh, but how is that any different from selling insurance or real estate? The truth is, it isn’t all that different. Different service/product, same process.
People accept the k attorney route and gripe about it because they really wanted a big job and prior to law school they couldn’t get it –and they still can’t get it. They have no interest in getting clients. They have even less interest in the law (as evidenced by the lack of professional involvement in pro bono etc.). But, at least they can tell someone who isn’t a lawyer, that they are one… and they don’t have to say, “Oh, I went to law school, but I work at The Gap.”
When I was in law school, a professor told me that there are only 2 types of attorneys –those who work for their clients and those who work for other attorneys. I never forgot that. And, even though I was content to work for others for a while, I understood that even a law firm would eventually have expectations of client-generation –so ultimately, the entrepreneurial mindset was crucial. But, regardless, it was ultimately my choice and my responsibility as to how I managed my career –and there is no legalized slavery in this country.
MOST (not all, and certainly not myself) people go to law school because they really cannot get paid to do anything else that they deem worthy of themselves. It always amazes me the assumption that these sorts of bloggers tend to hold that ALL of us are worthless liberal arts grads and that NONE of us had any other options. I do not need anyone’s JD in order to get a job. The truth is that I chose to be an attorney –a choice among options, all white-collar, all respectable, all tending to come with higher than average incomes. This is not the case for most folk stuck in Temp Town. So, for most folk, Temp Town is, again, an alternative to working at The Gap in the mall.Law school is not and should not be a place where the otherwise unemployable go to ride out 3 years and expect a fat paycheck and impressive title when they emerge –especially so long as they expect someone else to give it to them.
The biggest problem with the system is that it reflects the racist, sexist, classist, and ethnocentric perspective of the legal profession. In short, it is predatory. But, prey are wise to learn the ways of the predator and avoid his grasp. The bait is simple: At first, it is all the glitz and glamour of BigLaw that one dreamed of –in fact, the trappings used to be there. I can recall when I was a K attorney, we had cars to drive us home, per diem allowances, and, generally, incomes much higher than we might otherwise have had (other than being a BigLaw associate). And, of course, there is the idea, gently planted, that you might be discovered (lol!). So, then, once the prey has figured out that there is no getting discovered and this is a stain on your blouse that simply will not come out, the bait is reduced to the money. Which is not enough. But, the well-fed and lazy slave/servant is hesitant to go out in the cold, with no roadmap to the promised land, no money, no food, no shelter. And of course with the big bad Sallie Mae on the hunt as well. So, he gripes. But, rarely does he attempt to poison his master’s food. And, even more rarely does he attempt to strike out on his own.
Finally, LIES. The truth is that many (probably most) K attorneys have access to health insurance, but they CHOOSE not to purchase it. Many have access to 401ks and other such benefits as well. The problem is that rather than nurture relationships with the agencies and firms so that they can work consistently at one place and actually use those benefits, they see themselves as disposable and dispensable and run around like a beheaded chicken from project to project. Selling insurance is something that perhaps they should have learned to do. Those skills of creating and maintaining relationships, working on fluctuating income, and managing that process….well, I rest my case.
As for me, it was a time period in my life where I learned a lot –about the nature of the beast. At this point, what I have taken away from that experience is this: I am through working purely to make someone else rich. I will work to make myself rich. I will work for the good of society. I will work for valuable experiences and contacts. But, I will not work purely to make someone else rich. And, any job that is all about that, absent extreme circumstances, I will avoid it. And, my job, at this point, is to do my best to ensure that I do not wind up in such extreme circumstances.
Ex-Document Reviewer and Resident of Temp Town