(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

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42 comments on “(OT)A Response to ATL's 'Momma, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Contract Attorneys'

  • While I think BDSL and other such blogs tend to be overly bitter — and too bitter to advance their point — I do not think, as someone who has done contract doc review and is not actually bitter about it, that the above post is fair (or accurate). Contract doc review SHOULD be a legitimate work choice, imbued with the respect of the profession. For we are actually professionals — full-fledged lawyers, in fact, with the commensurate duties to clients, the bar, etc. — doing necessary work to advance clients’ interests. However, as those blogs often point out, AND AS THE ABOVE POST ITSELF EXEMPLIFIES, it is often denied that respect.

    Law is a weird business that doesn’t employ its human capital very well. For the sake of the public, the profession, and its members, it desperately needs to sort itself out. There’s more than one way to do good legal work. There SHOULD be more than one way to do good legal work, for we are not all the same and the practice itself requires a variety of talents, skills, and interests from its practitioners. But as long as lawyers continue to scorn EACH OTHER for how they earn their living — be it by choice or, indeed, economic necessity, as associateships haven’t exactly been growing on trees these days — it won’t. And that’s no good for anyone, lawyers or otherwise.

    • Cathy, this person went right from law school into doing document review at Big Law. She is no longer there having viewed it for the stepping stone it was for her, not the end game for her law license.

      The thrust is that the document review experience and what one pulls out of it is about perspective. She gained much out of it (as a logistical and economic necessity) but understood it’s true nature, validating (some of) the blogger’s factual experience, but not condoning his ‘victimization’ mentality. This was in response to his rant, not a commentary on all those who choose to do document review because, as you say, it can be a legitimate way to utilize one’s law license…providing there is professional respect.

    • Cathy…

      You say: ” I do not think, as someone who has done contract doc review and is not actually bitter about it, that the above post is fair (or accurate). Contract doc review SHOULD be a legitimate work choice, imbued with the respect of the profession.”

      Is your issue that you disagree with the characerization of how things are for doc reviewers (ie chance for advancement, little respect from peers, wages that are low for law but fairly high for busywork) or that you don’t feel that things should be set up that way?

      Seems to me that you pretty much agree with OP’s assessment of the state of things; just she sees the solution for individuals trapped in doc review as finding some way to escape it, while you argue that the structure of the legal profession should charge so that doc reviewers can be happy while remaining doc reviewers.

      Seems to me that, as an individual with no power to change the system, she proposes the route an individual can take to achieve goals. I don’t know that there is a way for you, or any single doc reviewer or group of doc reviewers, to achieve the systemwide changes you propose (while you are at the bottom of the power structure).

      • @ A lawyer…

        My comment was more pointed to the idea that the industry is structured in a needlessly wasteful way such that contract doc review is so disrespected and dead-ended. It need be neither, and for the sake of the profession, its practitioners, and its clients, it should be neither.

        Yet there’s also the point to be made that changing one’s circumstances is much easier said than done. Even the most optimistic and driven person is going to have issues. At best the work is simply too feast-or-famine to leave much in the way of time and energy to pursue other avenues, and the pay too inadequate to have enough of a cushion to take that leap. It’s also hard to plan for the long term when you are busy in the short term trying to figure out where your next paycheck is coming from. Even the highest doc review rates (which are plummeting precipitously) do not provide enough of a cushion to comfortably and confidently ride out the slow spots, particularly as more lawyers compete for diminishing assignments and bar obligations, loan repayments, et al., keep helping themselves to sums predicated on much larger incomes.

  • The lawyer as artisan is going to collide head long into the legal-services-as-commodity concept. I have no idea which will win, but the legal industry is pandemically slow to accept change. I assume that there will be many failures (of firms and business models) before this tension reaches an equilibrium point, long after it should have done so.

    I have no words of comfort for the young attorneys performing document review. My expectation is that financial pressures will cut into the need for this function.

  • What I find ironic is that the potential solution to the monotony of document review – off-shoring work overseas – is opposed by contract lawyers. If you read these sites, you will see that they resent the ABA for its ethics opinion that permits law firms to outsource work overseas. However, offshoring is what is putting downward pressure on contract lawyer prices in the U.S. In fact, that is what accounts for the changes in contract work over the past decade. Those who did contract work in the late ’90s have a much different view of it than those who currently do it, because back then, it was a profit center for firms. Firms marked up contract lawyer rates to clients and freely paid overhead and for other perks. Now, firms are constrained to do that because inhouse counsel will simply send projects directly to India.

    If you follow PosseList and Greg Buthis or read Susskind, you will understand that contract lawyering is an endangered species. Between advances in technology (which automate the “first cut” of document review) and offshoring, document review jobs are on the decline. The bitter contract lawyers ranting about how horrible their jobs are now won’t have anything to complain about in a couple of years, when there are no contract lawyer jobs left.

    • They aren’t griping about the work being boring, per se. There may be griping about it being the ONLY work they get to do, but in a decent, respectful environment, it’s not that bad. Most of the gripes you are seeing are stories of doing boring work in needlessly unhealthy environments.

      Plus incredulity that the ABA would both ask for their dues while simultaneously lay the groundwork to have their livelihoods sent overseas. The temp law bloggers are being bitter canaries in the coal mines pointing out that this organization that purports to represent the profession would turn such a blind eye to its economics. Really, what’s the point of belonging to this cartel if it its policies undermine one’s ability to earn a living?

      Personally I don’t even think that’s the biggest problem with the ABA ethics advisement enabling offshoring. As a lawyer with professional and ethical obligations I believe offshoring is a dereliction of those duties. The reason contract attorneys have been hired in the first place is because we have those obligations. We are bound to protect client confidences, and there is recourse if we don’t. Not so if privileged and confidential information is sent overseas. Yes, maybe the review will be cheaper. But you get what you pay for.

      • The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t really explain why law firms should be motivated to treat contract attorneys better. If the only reason firms hire licensed lawyers (as opposed to Indians or paralegal-types) for document review is that lawyers owe more of a duty of confidentiality and if the only value a contract attorney adds is the mere fact that they are licensed (as oppossed to some special skill relevant to document review), then why would firms be acting as rationale economic players if they shop for the cheepest possible licensed labor.

        If contract attorneys want to be treated better, they need to bring something more to the table than just the mere fact that they are licensed (and that “something has to be relevant to the task they are hired for). Otherwise, sadly, it seems like the firms are being rational economic actors.

  • Wow. That was a scathing post on Big Debt, Small Law. Although the account is exaggerated (I hope!), I can’t imagine putting up with those working conditions for very long. Are there really no other options?

  • Dear C. Elefant,

    What is your point, exactly? That it’s really funny when someone loses an unpleasant job to someone else in another country who, thanks to poverty, is willing to do the job for even less money, under presumably more dreadful conditions?

    What about this race to the lowest possible wage amuses you? Silly lawyers with their silly determination to pay ol’ Sallie Mae? Or the fact that a country experiencing abject poverty can provide citizerns to underbid those lawyers, free from the ethical and licensing obligations required of American lawyers?

    Nothing about the situation strikes me as particularly amusing, except of course your attempts to create a hectoring online persona, which will allow you to make money urging the lemmings off a cliff. Gee. Thanks for the advice.

  • The commodification of skilled labor isn’t going to skip over attorneys. Contract software development has taken a huge hit over the last 10-12 years as offshoring has matured, and the work product of developers and attorneys in categories like contract doc review, are equally cheap to ship around.

    I suspect it might be slower, because attorneys have more power to change the landscape in which they work (programmers don’t get to rewrite engagement terms), but economics doesn’t lose.

  • I agree that labor is becoming cheaper and cheaper. I already spent years in journalizm, during the “everyone should just become a freelancer and make tons of money by showing a little gumption” phase. Also known as “the last days when one could make a living wage as a writer.” Now all my friends from those days are living off a supportive spouse, and scraping together a few hundred bucks a week. The best writers (very, very few) are doing the same thing, but subsuduze it with speaking appearances.

    It kills me that the same stupid arguments are being trotted out again. It’s going to end the same way. Broke lawyers dragging down the economy. Crappy legal product delivered by poorly run call centers. And zero accountability from the “Yay for freelancers!” crowd.

  • Liz,

    Look, even if contract lawyer jobs are not off-shored, technology is quickly subsuming much of the work that contract lawyers do. There are currently technologies that automate the “first cut” of document review, which was previously performed by lawyers. This is also reducing the demand for contract lawyers and placing downward pressure on price.

    Moreover, is the ABA’s job to ensure that legal rates stay as high as possible? Seems to me that the ABA should also come up with ways to help keep the law affordable. In recent years, the ABA has moved towards allowing lawyers to provide unbundled legal services, which expands access to law – even though some lawyers would argue that this promotes lower standards. In my view, the ABA’s endorsement of offshoring is not all that different; it gives clients access to more affordable legal services and promotes competition to keep prices lower.
    To me, this is an admirable goal. (Of course, there are other problems with the ABA but if you don’t like them, why join? They’re far from the only game in town)

    My overarching point, however, is that it seems to me that contract lawyers are looking for a return to the past; to overtime contracts and perks and 60 hour weeks at $40/hr. That is just not feasible. Rather than spend time hoping for a return of the old, it seems wiser for contract lawyers to scope out new opportunities.


    I don’t think the offshoring trend is funny and I feel very badly for lawyers who are trained as JDs and are working as contract attorneys. I think there is a lot of wasted talent in those back rooms and basements and I would rather see that talent used towards making a difference

  • I’m glad we agree that there is nothing humorous about a large and growing group of people who paid six figures for an education which did not provide entree to a field with salaries that support that kind of debt.

    Im not sure what your point is, otherwise, however. The ABA isn’t the only gig in town, you say? And they should be providing lower cost legal services to the public? These are two truthful statements, but what does that have to do with offshoring? Offshoring lowers the cost of expensive and protracted corporate litigation. Isn’t that the opposite of tort reform goals meant to balance the field for smaller players? As well as pointless for most Americans who already lack access to legal services?

    Further, I do believe the ABA has been derelict in the following responsibilities:

    - They have allowed law firms to profit through off shore service centers, which avoid the legal and ethical obligations imposed on American lawyers.

    - They have completely failed to check the law school’s employment claims in any way, thus allowing the schools to raise tuition at four times the rate of inflation, while making claims that law is a highly paid profession.

    Law is not a highly paid profession for the vast majority of lawyers. The bankruptcy laws made contract work the only possible option for many lawyers, thus pushing down wages and deteriorating conditions. Now that’s gone too, it seems to be a disaster for everyone EXCEPT big corporations, and the ABA cheered this mess every step of the way.

    Damn straight I think they’ve failed.

  • The response to contract attorneys’ criticism of document review is so “blame the victim.” I’m not saying contract attorneys are really victims because let’s face it even they make more than 99.9% of the world’s population and also more than most here in the U.S., but the “former doc reviewer” in this post seems to think so many who went to law school are just losers who couldn’t get a job outside law and went to hide in school or find something “worthy of them” to do. I do not find that to be the case. Before I went to law school, I had a stable job with full benefits that I was working my way up in and I had just obtained a rather sizeable raise the year before I left to attend law school. I was an A-plus student in college and succeeded in everything I did. I even turned down 4 full scholarships to attend the top 10 school I went to. I do not see myself as some loser who should resign myself to working at McDonald’s because I was not able to find a law job after graduation. I really feel that it is a problem with the legal field in that there are TOO MANY ATTORNEYS and not enough jobs for them. Yes, I should have found this out before giving up my job and starting law school but I still feel ripped off. Thankfully, I am doing more than griping, I’m “voting with my feet” so to speak and leaving the legal profession and guess what, I haven’t felt this good in 6 years!

  • With all due respect, it is shameful that the ABA rubber stamped outsourcing with that ehtics opinion while US trained lawyers have to go go through so much time, expense and effort in getting qualified to practice law. Not to mention the continued CLE requirements.

    Either allow outsourcing and end all these barriers to entry that we have in the US……or prevent outsourcing.

  • You may be interested to know that the Bar of England & Wales just protected their lawyers by making it virtually impossible for US and other foreign trained lawyers to sit the QLTT conversion test to become a qualified solicitor. Previously you needed a couple of years work experiecne before sitting for the exam, now one of those years has to be under the supervision of a UK solicitor….you can see how hard that would be if you lived in Aus or America.

    They saw that all these foreign qualified attorneys were getting in through the back door and they put a stop to it.

  • Carolyn:

    “Moreover, is the ABA’s job to ensure that legal rates stay as high as possible? Seems to me that the ABA should also come up with ways to help keep the law affordable.”

    How about finding a way to keep LAW SCHOOL affordable?

    I can’t be the only person who got sick of hearing $100k+ Professors banging on about “public interest” and “justice and equality” and urging us not to “sell out” when they charge $44k a year for tuition and raise tuition 5k every year.

    The AMA does a good job in restricting the number of medical schools. The ABA accredits any old garbage……

    People are now waking up to the fact that most law grads are not going to make enough to pay off $150k in student loan debt, 100k of which will be private loans at high interest, and do the things that normal people want to do:

    1. Buy a house;
    2. Have kids;
    3. Live in a decent school district; and
    3. Take a nice vacation once a year.

    I am sick of hearing people trying to paint law grads as people who though they would walk into six figure jobs, live in a loft in Tribeca, while drinking champagne and eating caviar.

    If the ABA is not going to regulate the profession what purpose does it serve?

  • I didn’t see much real difference between the perspectives of this blog’s anonymous informant and that of the Big Debt, Small Law author. She talks about how to avoid being prey to predators, which could also be said how to avoid being a victim.

    She seemed most offended by a supposed assumption of bloggers that “ALL of us are worthless liberal arts grads.” Here’s what Big Debt Small Law said:

    “Most law grads are little more than over-leveraged liberal arts losers, who compounded the mistake of a worthless bachelor’s degree with an equally worthless (and much more expensive) JD.” She seems to agree with him on thw word “most,” and on the idea that a liberal arts education is for losers.

    I don’t agree with the word “loser,” but higher education as a bad investment is a real problem:


    Not many families can avoid the societal pressures for accredidation. This might change as society adapts to economic reality.

  • Carolyn/Susan,

    You have never done document review and your basis for your argument is one random person’s view. I can tell you from knowing a plethora of contract attorneys, they are miserable and the system is unfair. Firms continue to bill clients at $150/hr – $250/hr for contract attorneys while paying them $25-$35/hr with no benefits. Also, the argument that people aren’t forced to do “contract” jobs is further insulting to these individuals.

    (This comment was redacted in part because the author of this blog will not tolerate ‘abusive’ commentary especially cloaked in anonymity.)

    • Let’s get a few things straight…first, I redacted your abusive commentary. If you need to make a point you can do so without being abusive.

      Second, I clearly state I have never done contract work/document review so I sought out someone who did. Maybe I made a mistake finding someone who not only did it for several years right out of law school, but did it very well and learned how to work the system instead of falling victim to the system and this is what offends you so deeply.

      That she was eloquent describing what she witnessed – which included a certain victim-mentality from some of those she worked with as well as learning many went to law school for all the wrong reasons – and the fact she didn’t cater to the idea that she got screwed over in law school bothers you, it doesn’t make her experience any less valuable then those who choose to describe a different perspective of inescapable indentured servitude.

      Graduating law school and incurring frightening debt doesn’t mean you are entitled to enter the promised land upon passing the bar. It means you are given a potential opportunity others don’t have. That’s all. Regardless the economy, you still have to figure life out and what you are going to do with this piece of paper and the knowledge you have acquired.

      If you made a mistake, own it and move on. If the working conditions don’t work for you, move on. If enough people move on, the business model changes. If you don’t want to move on, don’t cry if the world continues to turn without you and you are left wallowing in your own bitterness.

      • The problems are the assumptions you are making about people without any proof other than what you want to believe. The reality is that our society has been on the economic decline for decades. This is not theory. It can be found in any number of long term indicators such as wage stagnation, benefits declines and, within our industry, the splitting of the industry into the big law firms and everyone else.

        I can see why someone would become angry at you for your assumptions. For every person that this article seeks to describe, there are many more who are trying, but facing extremely difficult odds given the number of lawyers, the law school mills, the restructuring of the greater economy, the globalization of the legal practice and multiple other factors. None of this takes away from individual responsibility, but to place all the discussion on individuals is not credible. We are facing a great shifting in our society. And, then, we see people such as yourself seemingly acting as an apologist for it. Maybe that’s not your intent, but the assumptions you make about contract attorneys give off that vibe.

        I am up late right now working on my own projects trying to move forward while also looking for contract work to support me in the short term. I came here just out curiousity to see why others were linking to it. I find the blame the individual approach so much of what is wrong in this society right now. Outcomes are a product of both individual action, networks of support and, yes, luck. I do not think the issue is simply people are not working hard, but instead that there is not a social net in place in this society and the chances of sucess are decreasing rather than increasing.

      • Follow up:

        Let me add that I am seeking to start my own business, and I can tell you for a fact that the conservatism, whether you intend it or not, that you expouse here makes it harder for someone to suceed, not easier. The pull yourself up by your own bootstrap theory is outdated and meaningless in a global economy in which other countries are smartly protecting their high paying white collar workers while we are shipping any job that can not be nailed down abroad.

        • “the pull yourself up by your own bootstrap theory is outdated and meaningless….’

          This ‘theory’ will never be outdated because as the world turns change will always force a significant portion of its population to pull on those bootstraps. Entrepreneurship and reinvention have been the cornerstone of progress since the beginning of time. Don’t go head to head with me on what I understand about the global economy and demographic and economic trends. You’ll lose :-)

          What most are really arguing about, whether they realize it or not, is the definition of success in today’s economy. If success is measured by square footage in one’s home, private schools for the kiddies, multiple vacations, a new car every three years, then due to our changing global economic landscape this will now be more elusive for many regardless their law degree. Dreams die hard. And there are many ‘models’ to blame. But this economic cycle is one which has been repeating since the fall of the Roman Empire and new grads are getting hit with the brunt of it…a head-on collision between idealistic dreams and the ‘fall of today’s Empire.’

          Their new dream has to start with satisfaction in earning enough for life’s basic needs. Blaming will not put food on the table. Figuring out how to use what they’ve learned and rewriting their life’s script will.

          • You keep trying to tell us what we are “really” arguing about rather than reading what we are saying. Some maybe arguing as you describe. Most are not.

            What is at the core is that there is no “bootstrap” as defined by the way Americans think of it in the global economy. There are no rugged individuals.

            Indeed, if you do try to go it alone as Americans define it, you will soon be out of business. I am a newly minted businessman. One of the first lessons that I learned is how much of the stuff you are saying is wrong. It is not about my wanting to suceed alone. There has to be an environment in which sucess is a realistic possibility.

            Social networks and societal structures are absolutely critical to whether or not a business suceeds or not. The anger you are seeing concerns the breakdown of those structures in favor of the insanity that produces the meltdown on Wall Street, educational costs growing at several times the rate of inflation and spiralling out of control healthcare costs. Of those, if you asked the people here what bothers them- it is the broken contract of how one can not even trust our educational system not to con us. Could we forsee this, and then, act accordingly. Maybe, but that means that our society is surrendering to absurdity where there are no societal structures. It is absurd because when compared to other advanced countries this places us at a competitive disadvantage.

            We can not, for example, accepted reduced wages not because we don’t want to, but because we have been settled with debt just to be able to even be qualified for the position in America, but you can go abroad, and this is not the case. This is like tying both our legs, and then telling us to race in the Boston Marathon. It is simply not reality. What you will find is a lot more failures because the structure is set up to produce more failures.

            This does not absolve people of the responsiblity of trying, but it does not absolve our system of the fact that it is set up cause failure. One point does not negate or change the other. What they do is enhance our understanding. Your posting about some person able to overcome the situation is what conservatives often do when faced with issues of systemic failure: they point out the lucky few. It is illogical. But, it is meant to say, “See it is possible.”

            Except we are not discussing what is just possible, we are discussing, as I am learning as a business man, what is likely and probable. This is the cornestone of understanding our society.

          • One of the first lessons that I learned is how much of the stuff you are saying is wrong. It is not about my wanting to suceed alone. There has to be an environment in which sucess is a realistic possibility.

            Yes, we part company here other than agreeing desire is not enough. Execution, understanding the economic landscape and navigating through it is what is needed to succeed. Trading in your ideas of what you’d like to do for understanding what is needed and then pursuing a business are critical. You have to work with the world you live in…not the world as you’d like it to be. Every business is undergoing transformation. Those who transform live; those who don’t die. If you have an idea for a business which simply cannot work in this current world, then of course it must fail. Your desire to succeed will not alter this. But your desire to succeed can push you into directions that will work when you allow for the possibility.

            In David Scott’s fantastic book ‘Tuned In’ he describes why businesses succeed where others fail. And the most important reason for failure is creating a product or service no one wants even though you think it is great. You invest your time, money, heart and soul. But if no one wants it, the product is packaged wrong and marketed to the wrong target audience, no amount of desire to succeed will make it a success. If you work inward out, find what the market is truly lacking, understand what is needed from the perspective of your potential buyer, you will create a product or service that resonates with this audience.

            It is no different with creativity in the practice of law. Using the perspective of someone who worked through the ‘systemic failure’ of this system of contract/document review is important for those who are still within the system feeling helpless. It is not illogical or conservative. But to be trapped into what is ‘likely and probable’ stifles ideas, does not nurture them and keeps people trapped in feelings of helplessness while maintaining a miserable status quo.

            People generally want to take personal responsibility and others have to help them to do so if they ask. Life is about choices, not always the obvious choice between great and not so great, but between two not so great choices. But they are still choices that can and must be made. No one is trapped unless they choose to be trapped.

  • This is how many lawyers feel about the ABA:

    Dear ABA (American Biglaw Association):

    Please find enclosed a literal expression of what you’ve done to our industry. Despite the massive saturation and glut of unemployed lawyers, you insist upon accrediting every tax-dodging hack who operates a law school out of his garage. The cruel reality that few of these students will ever find paying work as lawyers is; to paraphrase Hamlet, “not dreamt of in your philosophy.” Furthermore, via ABA ethics opinion 08-451, you have green-lighted and endorsed the outsourcing of domestic legal work to unlicensed, unregulated Third World boiler rooms staffed by non-lawyers. This is not only patently unacceptable, but the utter height of hypocrisy. American law students are compelled to committ massive investments of time, study, and treasure before earning the title “Attorney at Law,” a title you have lately rendered essentially worthless. You endorse sadistic and pointless hazing rituals like the Multistate Bar Exam (written by your well-paid pals at the National Conference of Bar Examiners), promulgate arbitrarily applied ethics rules that routinely screw over solos and small firms while letting Biglaw off scott free, and waste massive amounts of energy on elitist, far-left wing moonbat crusades like closing down Gitmo. Many of us outside Biglaw correctly assume that you care more about the “rights” of terrorists than the struggling young members of your own industry. The low paying document review jobs you so cavalierly outsource are to many recent grads the only bulwark between themselves and starvation.

    Where were you when law school tuition rose at 3 times the rate of inflation? How do you justify forcing American lawyers to pay bar dues, CLE fees, take the MPRE, report trust account information, submit to invasive background checks and so on yet allow (and encourage) huge Biglaw firms to reap massive profits by using offshore “lawyers” who have had to endure none of these onerous prerequisites? How do you endorse (and in fact, require!) an education model that renders recent graduates experts on the common law of 16th century England but wholly unprepared to litigate a client’s simple fender bender case here in good old 2009? It is nothing short of pedagogic malpractice, and given the soaring cost of tuition it is simply unconscionable. In the eyes of many lawyers, you have lost all creditability and clearly sold the working-class attorney down the river to further enrich your elitist brethren at large firms and your Ivy-league, ivory tower law professors.

    Note that I routinely use the word “industry” as opposed to “profession” when describing the practice of law. You, the ABA, have done more than anyone to justify that semantic distinction. You trashed the time-honored apprenticeship system that produced lawyers like Webster, Lincoln, and Darrow and replaced it with the current diploma-mill model that provides cushy jobs to your cronies and crushing debt to new lawyers. Sharecroppers in the Antebellum South received a greater share of the profits than most contract attorneys do from the large firms you so zealously champion, and enjoyed better working conditions. And thanks to the glut of lawyers that your “accredited” law schools have produced, small firms are constantly setting new floors for entry-level salaries. Recent grads are sending out bales of resumes to dead silence, as if trying to sell saltwater on a lifeboat. There aren’t any takers.

    And, pray tell, why would there be? Not many small firms are specialists in the Rule Against Perpetuities or the nuances of UCC 2-207 or any of the other comical obscurities and exceptions that your accredited system of “education” so myopically focuses upon. Rather than stress (and teach) the practical nuts n’ bolts of everyday practice, you reward schools who compile massive libraries of cobwebbed, outdated and irrelevant minutiae and exalt “professors” whose only courtroom experience is watching Boston Legal reruns on their DVR’s. If medical schools operated under your antiquated rubric, we’d still treat staph infections with bloodletting and pneumonia with mustard plasters. You’re like an army of bows and arrows in the era of gunpowder. It’s long past time for structural change.

    Young lawyers are paying a dear price for the disaster that you’ve sown. Like the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath, many young barristers lead an impoverished, transient life, flocking from one document review project to the next while hoping to stay a paycheck ahead of the loan sharks at Sallie Mae. Some try to cut their teeth in the gutter of insurance defense “practice,” cutting and pasting reams of boilerplate dreck for less money than a day laborer on a landscape crew. The temp agency pimps and their masters in Biglaw routinely lie about pay and hours, treat their fellow attorneys like expendable pieces of garbage, and routinely engage in behavior that violates not only your Rules of Professional Responsibility but also our basic human dignity. You remain deathly silent at the widespread “chill and bill” tactics of Biglaw and the outsourcing of independent legal judgment to unlicensed third world slumdogs, yet are quick to string up some starving solo attorney who dare sends a paralegal to cover a routine court appearance in a trip n’ slip case.

    For all your insincere grandstanding and hot air, the legal industry has never been held in lower regard by the public, and the recent spate of chiseling crooks (see Dreier, Marc and Weiss, Mel) illustrate the shamelessness & moral bankruptcy that infects even those at the zenith of this business.

    Young lawyers and solos aren’t leaving the ABA: the ABA is leaving them. Do you really expect us to sacrifice a portion of our already pathetic paychecks so that you can devise new ways to insure our perpetual serfdom? Gentlemen, have you no shame?

    Yours Truly,

  • Susan : you just twisted what I said.

    “I said you:
    People are now waking up to the fact that most law grads are not going to make enough to pay off $150k in student loan debt, 100k of which will be private loans at high interest, and do the things that normal people want to do:

    1. Buy a house;
    2. Have kids;
    3. Live in a decent school district; and
    3. Take a nice vacation once a year.”

    I am sick of hearing people trying to paint law grads as people who though they would walk into six figure jobs, live in a loft in Tribeca, while drinking champagne and eating caviar.

    You said: (although you did nto refer directly to me, I take it that you were directing the below to me given the above)

    “If success is measured by square footage in one’s home, private schools for the kiddies, multiple vacations, a new car every three years, then due to our changing global economic landscape this will now be more elusive for many regardless their law degree.”

    I never said that success should be measured by material things, not would I. I never said “multiple” vacations, or PRIVATE schools……..new cars all the time. Perhaps this is an attempt at exaggeration to get you point across. My point is that most of us don’t want Ferraris and beach houses on the Cape worth $4 million. Many of us thought that law would be a route to a basic and stable middle class lifestyle…..and we are finding out that we might have backed the wrong horse!

    Again, as the ABA rubbers stamps outsourcing of US law jobs, other countries make it very difficult, if not impossible, for foreign qualified lawyers to practice law in their jurisdictions. See Bar of England and Wales, look at Canada and Australia as other good examples.

    You can have all the passion and smarts in the world, but I would like to know how you save a years worth of living expenses to start a solo practice as Foonberg says. Of course those living expenses inlcude rent, food, car, gas and for many a very large loans payment that is due every month…..How am I supposed to save $40,000 when I make $50,000 in my small law job? If you are single with no spouse or family support it is tough to do that.

    Businesses need start up capital…..

    Susan I also don’t understand why you support outsourcing of jobs to India. Please correct I am mistaken regrding your position.

    • Let me address your last statement first. I’ve never written anywhere that I support outsourcing of any jobs (including manufacturing) outside this country. Yet I understand it is the nature of the beast…one which keeps feeding upon itself and is contributing significantly to our economic woes.

      I also don’t agree you need a year’s worth of savings to start a solo practice. And today one can start up with little to no dollars thanks to technology.

      And, yes, you do need smarts, patience, ability to delay gratification, knowledge on how to work with your student loans and help from more experienced in their areas of expertise. It’s a TOUGH world we live in! And it’s not going to get easier in the foreseeable future. And survival is the province of those who can adapt….and who can do with less, at least in the beginning, until they can lay a reasonable foundation for a solid future.

      We can only work with the tools we are given. If someone says, ‘buy this shiny shovel and you can grow a wonderful garden’ there will be people who buy it and wonder why they are starving as the shovel didn’t work by itself or with a few listless thrusts into hard, dry ground. There are others who don’t care what the salesman says about the shovel, they already have plans for how they are going to use it and why it is so important to their future. Don’t blame the shovel salesman or the shovel manufacturer. Once the shovel is in your hands it’s up to you to use as intended or use more ingeniously to get what you want. If not, it’s going to sit in the back of the shed as another wasted investment as you claim you were misled by the shovel salesman.

      The definition of success I describe is one I listen to constantly or observe. It is measured based upon what many saw their parents earn/provide or their neighbor’s parent’s earn/provide. And one many believe a law degree will provide to them….before they ever even know what it entails or do their own responsible research. They just see the trappings and what they think will be a cake walk to get if they go to the right school. Go to any law school listserv and you’ll see what I say is true. Those who truly have a passion for the law will find a way to practice. I see this time and time, again. Those who feel betrayed by the messenger will leave the profession. And they should.

      Yes, I have little tolerance for whining (even if there is some validity to the complaint) and great admiration for those who find a way to make it work for them even if it is in unexpected ways. I don’t judge what they do but appreciate their attitude about what they do. This ‘anonymous’ doc reviewer lived and breathed her experience for many years, watched the Big Law attitude towards her and her fellow workers, saw them belittled by the ‘lawyers’ of the firm telling them they WERE NOT lawyers even though they had all passed the bar exam. I know much more about her experiences then was written. But her attitude that she was going to find a way to leverage her experiences, her degree, her desire to practice and make it work for her is what I admire and why it was offered as a counterpoint to the complaints of BigDebt, Small Law. This ‘attitude’ is what I hope will help everyone find a different way to succeed instead of complaining about the injustices.

      If you are considering starting law school, think long and hard. If you are in a year or two, consider leaving before your debt gets too overwhelming. But if you already have your degree, why complain? Figure out a way like thousands of others.

      It’s also why I’ve spent more than 2 1/2 years creating SPU. There ARE ways…you just have to want to move forward.

      • It’s a shame that some people wear the victimization mantle so closely; the bitterness obscures any legitimacy to their arguments. The problem is, there is some.

        I think it’s great how enthusiastically you support people to discover their own power and control their own destinies. But please recognize it is not whining to point out the arbitrary, pointless, counter-productive, and downright financially debilitating obstacles that must be overcome in order to do so — or to object to the fact that so many of them are imposed by the profession itself.

        For example, one (or both?) of the aforementioned temp blogs currently has an item about New Jersey’s mandatory pro bono requirements. Pro bono can be a good thing; it can even be a good thing for a young lawyer looking to build up skills. But the NJ program doesn’t just ask for pro bono hours generally; it assigns you pro bono work. Work that if you’re doing temp work to try to support yourself, you simply cannot afford the time off to do.

        New Jersey also has mandatory CLE requirements for young lawyers that aren’t even constitutional! Let me tell you how hard it was to build up MY career when I kept having to drop several hundred dollars at a time to fly across the entire country to take the classes that could only be taken within the state (can we say, “undue burden on out of state residents”?). The first year’s classes required attendance every day for a WEEK, and on top of that had homework that was so poorly designed from a pedagogical standpoint it took ages to complete, while ultimately teaching nothing of any utility.

        Or how hard it was to focus on building my career when my first year was also spent having to take three separate bar exams in order to be able to practice in the states where I have roots (NY/NJ for childhood, CA for adulthood). And how that now amounts to three states’ worth of bar fees, three states worth of moral character applications, three states worth of CLE requirements, three states worth of pro bono requirements… I’m eligible for admittance to DC too, and as a technology lawyer being able to practice there could be advantageous for my career. But I just can’t bring myself to take on that additional financial and time-intensive burden. I can’t even use my New Jersey license that I worked so hard to earn and maintain lest it also trigger all its onerous requirements — including bona fide office requirements — that are simply impossible to fulfill from the other side of the country.

        How do any of these rules make me a better lawyer, or the profession any better, or make clients any better off? Though often imposed under the guise of “public interest” the result is anything but. Clients need good, attentive lawyers, but what they get is a profession under severe, and needless, financial duress and distress. It cannot be considered “whining” to suggest that these barriers be removed; to point out how their demands of time/money/energy/momentum interfere with one’s ability to not only capitalize on this immense investment of time and money they’ve already made in getting their JD, but with one’s ability to truly become a good lawyer and achieve the careers in law they dream of and the public still needs? People can say, buck up and deal with it, but at some point the profession will need to take a look at how much they are expecting young lawyers to endure, because it’s already economically unsustainable, and ultimately that’s bad for everyone.

        • Cathy, I don’t disagree with a thing you are saying, but my comments are based upon the thrust of the post which is about document review and contract work. If we were to get into mandatory CLE and mandatory pro bono work and the lack of ability to take on line CLE and more, I’ve written extensively against all of it…even against mandatory malpractice insurance. I’m against anything which has lawyers jumping through any more hoops to use their hard-earned license.

          • Fair enough. I just point it out as an illustration about why moving out of document review is often easier said than done. I consider myself a pretty good student of, and immensely respect, your consummate encouragement of lawyers to seize their own empowerment and control their own destinies, and yet I still think a lot of the comments from you/Carolyn/original poster are a bit glib. Not only do I think “to each his own” (given US discovery rules, doc review work still must be done, and done well, so it does no good to denigrate the trained professionals who do it), but even for those who want to move onto something else it’s often much, much harder to do so than the advice seems to realize. In fact, I’d dare say it’s getting increasingly hard, and probably much harder than back when the original poster made her shift. The economics of making the leap are much more fraught, and the doc review seems increasingly less respected, so it’s harder to show up somewhere else with it on your resume.

  • Really, that is the reason why you created SPU? Such a noble purpose. I am sure it had nothing to do with the fact that you are collecting SPU tuition money from people that are down on their luck.

    • If you really understood SPU’s mission you would never have written what you wrote. You’d know we have given out more than 100 life-time scholarships to those trying to become solos and continue to do so, as well as understanding our minimal tuition covers the costs of running the site. Yes, our mission is much, much bigger :-)

  • When will people wake up to the fact (and yes, it is a fact) that lawyers are now (and probably always were, but for various reasons didn’t acknowledge the fact) in a business and they run businesses. This is the quintessential failure of modern American legal education, acknowledged by so few (including Susan, thankfully). Sadly even I, with multiple degrees and a long career prior to law school, did not realize this until I was in school for a couple of years and the absurdity of the biglaw model became apparent to me.

    It is interesting that those who have the knowledge and interest in leading lawyers out of the trap that is the current biglaw model are often attacked as charlatans or worse (the vitriol of Greenfield can be breathtaking, for example).

    • I should note that Carolyn brought up a good point (offline) that I should perhaps have also noted that at least Scott Greenfield posts openly under his name, unlike many of the anonymous posters (see, e.g., ATL’s comments section and xoxo as prime examples of the latter). And I actually agree with him 90% of the time (see his recent postings on healthcare reform – out of his area of expertise, but pretty valid points). But he can be pretty harsh when he turns his sights on you (not me, yet – and my skin is tough enough, anyway). I just named him because he is an identifiable blogger with a different attitude.

    • I can guarantee you it was not as Roxana is, in fact, a student here. Her tongue-n-cheek approach is her writing style and playful and she is free to stay here as long as she would like.

  • Cathy,

    I also agree with much of what you say about mandatory bar associations and CLE requirements. In fact, when DC was considering a mandatory CLE, I wrote in opposition for many of the reasons you articulate.

    But when you say that Susan and I are glib, I think you are not looking at what we have each tried to accomplish to help lawyers over come the contract lawyer conundrum. For Susan, the concept was SPU because people can take classes and interact with colleagues without losing their day job. Maybe that is not enough in your view, but it is a start.

    As for me, I am well aware of the contract lawyer conundrum. I have grappled with it for some time, and posted some ideas at my blog back in January offering specific ideas for how lawyers could try to transition out of contract work. http://www.myshingle.com/2009/01/articles/trends/the-contract-lawyer-conundrum/ To be sure, my suggestions may be unrealistic, but quite frankly, I’ve not seen anything more concrete from the contract lawyering blogs.

    Most of the “solutions” I see at the contract lawyer blogs involve (a) requiring the ABA should force law schools to be transparent about post-graduation job opportunities; (b) making the ABA prohibit offshoring to keep contract jobs in the US and (c) requiring temp agencies to pay benefits and provide training.

    As to option (a), I agree that the ABA should do more in checking stats and also, stop accrediting so many law school. That may help stop the flow of new grads into the market, but it will be years before the reduction has any impact (you’d think that current job stats would deter people from going to law school, but they’re STILL applying in droves, hoping to “ride out the recession.”)

    As to argument (b)(prohibiting off-shoring), not sending jobs overseas just prolongs the inevitable. The bottom line is that there are too many lawyers and contract work is diminishing because of technology. In 3 years, these doc review projects will probably utilize 1/3 of the number of people they are using now with or without India. Moreover, even if jobs aren’t sent overseas, in an economic downturn, there’s no reason to expect that people will pay more for contract lawyers. First year associate salaries have finally (and sensibly) gone down? Why would’nt rates in other parts of the market do the same?

    As to argument (c), (pay benefits & insurance), during boom times, temp agencies were offering insurance options to lure canddiates. But because of the economy, it’s a seller’s market and temp agencies don’t have to pay benefits to get lawyers to fill slots. Sure, it’s rude, but it’s also a business. Besides, what kind of training are temp companies going to provide? Are they going to train people in litigation or corporate transactions? Doubtful, because it doesn’t serve their goals (all it would do is give temp lawyers the tools to leave the job).

    I can understand that contract lawyers may never want to start their own firms, and agree that in many situations, doing so is very difficult, if not impossible. But at least the so-called solo cheerleaders are trying to come up with other options even though they may be difficult. What kinds of solutions are the contract lawyers coming up with to help themselves now?

    • First, I don’t think you and Susan are glib. I just meant some of the advice in this thread tends to read that way, oversimplified like in a “just add water” kind of way (or in this case, “just add independent spirit!”), when, as your recent comment acknowledges, we all know leaving behind doc review is not that simple.

      But in terms of overall solutions, I think (a), (b), and (c) are kind of red herrings. Something I said in my original comment: there’s all kinds of legal work and all kinds of skills, talents, and personalities needed for it. What’s needed therefore is (d), to allow for these different kinds of work and talents to match themselves more fluidly. And that doesn’t happen when there are all sorts of arbitrary barriers to entry; when there are all sorts of avoidable economic pressures; and, most of all, when there is so much disrespect *within the profession* towards its practitioners.

      This thread is testament to the consequence of that disrespect, because instead of being focused on specific solutions to the doc review conundrum to make it more sustainable, we’re mired in debate about whose world view is right. We’d be better served by a more pragmatic discussion.

      For instance, re: offshoring, does the ABA rule reconcile with the duties courts are expecting of firms during the discovery process (see, e.g., Qualcomm v. Broadcom)? What kinds of changes could be implemented to make domestic doc review more economically feasible for everyone? (E.g., should we eliminate staffing agencies? Should we limit firm mark-ups on doc review work? Should we pay overtime?) There’s plenty to talk about that could result in solutions, but as long as we’re all throwing stones at each other they’ll never happen.

  • Outsourcing is not “inevitable” anymore than any other policy is inevitable. It happens because powerful and wealthy interests are being served, and that seems to dictate the policy.

    I am positive that if you did a poll of every lawyer in the U.S. and asked them a simple question: Are you in favor of outsourcing legal work to other countries such as India?, the vast majority would not be in favor of it. Indeed, they would be strongly opposed.

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