Attorney at Blah The temp life without a J.D.: menial labor, asshole bosses, $10 an hour. The temp life with a J.D.: menial labor, asshole bosses, $35 an hour.

Illustrations by Ilana kohn

Jay Kuperstein had a good job. He worked in New York for the NBA, editing basketball videos. Then he got tired of sitting in front of a video monitor for 15 hours a day and decided to go to law school.

Kuperstein, who is 30 years old, graduated from American University’s law school in 2005. The plan was to become a sports agent. “I thought it would be good with my background and law degree,” he says. “But it turns out it’s a job that’s nearly impossible to get.”

And so this new lawyer found himself sitting in front of a computer for 15 hours a day, working as a temp document reviewer, one of a growing species of big-city lawyer that sifts through electronic documents to determine whether they are relevant to pending court cases and investigations.

Kuperstein does not do research, and he does not write; he does not go to court, and he does not meet with clients. The clients whose cases he works on do not know his name. There is no room for promotion in this job, and there is no health insurance.

But there is the potential of a six-figure salary and also very little stress—except for the stress of knowing that the job may end any minute now, without warning.


Though it’s not what he expected, Kuperstein is happy with his work. His job exists to support big-firm lawyers, who do meet with clients and go to court and research and write. It is tedious, time-intensive grunt work that used to fall to young big-firm lawyers but has now been outsourced to temps.

For more and more law school graduates, this is the legal life: On a given day, they may plow through a few hundred documents—e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, memos, and anything else on a hard drive. Each document appears on their computer screen. They read it, then click one of the buttons on the screen that says “relevant” or “not relevant,” and then they look at the next document.

This isn’t anyone’s dream job, but more and more lawyers in big cities around the country are finding that seven years of higher education, crushing student loans, and an unfriendly job market have brought them to windowless rooms around the city, where they do well-paid work that sometimes seems to require no more than a law degree, the use of a single index finger, and the ability to sit still for 15 hours a day. Is this being a lawyer? It is now.

Dear Marie,

Paris next week for a meeting with [bank name redacted]. Free for dinner?



When you are a temp document reviewer, you live for e-mails that have some spark of humanity in them, even if they are banal and about people who are being investigated by the Department of Justice, because those e-mails are not spreadsheets; they are not brochures or policy statements.

They are also not relevant. A relevant document would be a lot more boring, for the most part, and would not conjure up fantasies of Camembert sandwiches in the park. You know, or something. Move the mouse so the cursor is over the “not relevant” button. Click the “not relevant” button. Click the “next” button. It’s another e-mail—Marie turning Frank down for dinner, saying that she is going to be in Croatia that week. With her boyfriend.

Again, not relevant. At least not to the big-city lawyer. Frank no doubt feels differently. (If there were a real Frank, that is; this e-mail is similar to a real e-mail I’ve seen but is not the exact e-mail, because writing down a real e-mail would be a violation of a contract every temp document reviewer signs pledging confidentiality.)

This is all by way of saying that I have also been a temp document reviewer and probably will be again. I graduated from law school more than seven years ago, with $150,000 in loans. After paying around $1,000 a month for the last seven years, I now owe a mere $101,000. Add to this a wicked wanderlust and certain carelessness with money, and you can see how I end up looking for new ways to pay my bills.

I’d heard about temp document reviewing before I got to D.C. this past summer. A friend told me she’d done it in New York in between full-time jobs; she said it was hell on earth. Another friend was doing it in Boston, where he’d recently moved, and he didn’t seem to mind it too much.

But I thought of my friends as anomalies. I didn’t realize that temp document reviewing was a full-fledged phenomenon until I got to D.C. this last summer and found myself talking with lawyer after lawyer who was doing or had done this work.

Some of these people included a cousin of mine who couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t do the work, especially since I kept asking her to pay for lunch. I resisted at first, because when I was a new lawyer, working as an associate at a big law firm in New York, I had done some document reviewing as part of my job on the firm’s litigation team. Box upon box of paper documents were my territory. The boxes were dusty and aggravated my allergies; the paper was sharp and cut my delicate fingers. I took naps on my office floor when I couldn’t bear to look at more documents. It felt like exquisite torture, spending all those weeks in all those boxes. A friend who was also reviewing documents at his law firm back then said to me he thought he was getting the same box of documents to review, over and over and over, as part of some psychology experiment.

But bills being bills, before long I’d signed up with five or seven of the 60-odd lawyer temp agencies around the city and was put to work.

My first “project,” as these assignments are called, was at a big law firm near the White House. It paid $35 an hour, 40 hours a week—no overtime, clock out for lunch. My brother, another Greenwood child who fecklessly indebted himself for a J.D., was also assigned to this project.

The project started at 9 a.m. on a Monday in a conference room with a nice view, where a lawyer from the firm gave the 20-odd temps an overview of the case (it was a company investigating itself, in anticipation of a Department of Justice investigation—I can’t say more, or I’ll violate a confidentiality agreement I signed; anyway, you don’t really want to know). The lawyer handed us binders with more information about the case—about how we’d discern the relevant documents from the irrelevant—and then a member of the administrative staff told us not to use the Internet too much, or we’d be in trouble.

From there we were taken to our work station: a windowless room filled with computers. We each had a computer; we were trained on the particular computer program we’d be using, then got clicking. Relevant. Not relevant. Not relevant. Not relevant. Two staff attorneys—full-time lawyers hired by the law firm to oversee the temp document reviewers—sat at a table in the front of the room, watching us click in this quiet, quiet room. Mostly quiet room. One of the two sometimes sent around e-mails that said things like:

“We notice that some of you are listening to music too loud on your personal stereos.” And, “We notice that some of you have long fingernails which are making loud noises on the keyboards. Because your job does not require the use of the keyboard, only the mouse, we are confused why we are hearing so much loud fingernail-on-keyboard noise.”

The passive-aggressive e-mails? Not relevant. My music was quiet, and my nails are short. The staff attorney meant those missives for a couple of the other temps.

The rhythm of the day, for me, was that in the morning, I’d arrive and get coffee and then sit happily enough at the computer reviewing documents and surfing the Internet, on and off, for three or four hours. Most of the documents were fairly dull—spreadsheets, brochures, e-mails talking about financial stuff. Every once in a while I’d get a good e-mail, not as good as the e-mails the other people said they’d sometimes seen—things about people getting divorces and arguing about their child visitation rights, arranging secret rendezvous, and downloading porn—but things like: “Hey dude, I’m in Hawaii with my wife. She sure likes to spend money. Nice hotel. How’s the XYZ deal going? Paul”

Oh, I’d think. Hawaii. Hawaii sounds nice. Then I’d look up the hotel where Paul said he was staying and see what amenities it had, if it was close to town.

The documents we reviewed had some chronological order, so after I read about Hawaii, I read e-mails between Paul and the dude about Paul’s return from Hawaii, about how both Paul and the dude hated some other co-worker who had undermined Paul’s efforts to put together a certain deal, about the dude’s attempts (foiled!) to buy a house, and so on. I read enough about these senders that I got mildly involved in their lives and started hoping the deal would go through, the bid for the house would be accepted.

The document review room was nearly silent except for the sounds of computer clicking, the sounds of people eating, and the sounds of someone’s too-loud personal stereo or too-long nails on the keyboards.

But we temp lawyers got to talking around the coffee machine or in the bathroom. The other temp lawyers seemed to come from every walk of lawyerly life—one had left an associate job at another firm, another was trying to make it in the hip-hop world. A third was looking for a job as a patent lawyer, maybe, or maybe he’d just do document review and travel between projects. A woman told me that usually she did document reviews in foreign languages—she speaks Dutch, she said—and makes more money doing that. An older man told me he’d recently retired from the federal government. It seemed as if people fell into one of three camps: people who only wanted temp jobs because they liked the freedom; people who were between regular jobs; and people who were stuck doing document review forever—not between jobs, because there were no jobs to be between.

For lunch, I’d go to the firm cafeteria for a tomato and mozzarella sandwich, which I’d eat in front of the computer so as not to waste time. And with lunch eaten, I’d sit at the computer for another few hours and despair—this is what I was doing with myself? With my fancy law degree? My friends were becoming well-known, they were making a lot of money, and this anonymous, stupid work was what I was doing with myself?

Then I’d spend a surreptitious hour looking for other jobs, hoping the staff attorneys wouldn’t notice, hoping they wouldn’t send me an e-mail saying, “We notice that some of you are looking to get fired…” I never got this e-mail.

After that, I’d settle back into my life and review documents for another couple of hours and feel OK about it. The day was almost over, I’d go for a nice walk after work, see a movie, or get some drinks, and I’d have earned enough money over the course of the day to keep myself fed and housed, and then some.

This was the easiest job I’d ever had, the only job that was neither physically nor intellectually taxing, and I was making nice money. Every day was the same, every day was quiet, every day was a combination of angst and contentment, until the day that one of the two staff attorneys—the more chatty one— unexpectedly stood up and said the documents had all been reviewed, and it was time for us to go home. If it had been the other staff attorney sending us back into employment, I’m sure she’d have done it by e-mail: “We notice that there is no need for you to come to work anymore…”

You may have noticed that there are too many lawyers, more now than ever before.

From Jan. 1, 2000, until today, the New York Times published 20 or so articles about the skyrocketing salaries and staggering bonuses that brand-new baby lawyers were getting. An article from Feb. 2, 2000, talks about first-year lawyer salaries rising to $140,000 per year; an article from Oct. 27, 2000, discusses the $35,000 bonuses for new lawyers at big law firms. An article from Aug. 1, 2000, talks about law students earning $2,000 a week as they worked at law firms during their summer vacations. By Sept. 1, 2006, the Times was reporting that first year salaries had gone up to $145,000, before bonuses.

Perhaps because of the lawyer’s pay scale and the burst of the dot-com bubble, applications to law schools went up, up, up. According to the American Bar Association, in the 1999-2000 academic year, 132,276 were enrolled at American Bar Associationnapproved law schools. By 2003-2004, that number had jumped to 145,088. In 2006-2007, it’s 148,698.

New law schools opened; some got accredited. (There are 195 accredited law schools in America now; there were 175 in 1990.) Hordes of new law school graduates went to law school and graduated, expecting that they were about to strike it rich (or at least rich by normal standards—first-year lawyers making $145,000 a year still manage to complain that they’re not earning enough, according to a February 2005 New York Times article titled “Six Figures? Not Enough!”).

The cost of law school also rose by a staggering amount, meaning law students had to take out higher loans. In 1985, the average law school tuition and fees were $7,526, according to the American Bar Association. By 2006, the average law school tuition and fees were $30,520. The average law school debt in 2006 was $83,181.

Who cares about debt when lawyers rake in all the money, right?

Well, they don’t.

A little more than 10 percent of new law school graduates are earning $135,000 as a starting salary. But the median starting salary for an employed law school graduate is $62,000 per year, according to the National Association for Legal Placement (NALP), an organization that studies legal hiring. And the small firms that employ most new graduates pay closer to $40,000 per year. It’s not enough if you’re going to make your loan payments, your rent payments, and still have money left for caviar.

The flood of indebted lawyers comes at an ideal time for big-city firms. These places have always had to sift through documents in the “discovery” phase of litigation, when the parties must submit all materials relevant to the case at hand. And for ages, that was a very manual exercise, in which junior associates would rummage through boxes of documents in search of the relevant ones.

Computers compounded that task. The documents that now have to be reviewed include everything on the hard drives of any person at a company who might be involved with the subject of the lawsuit or investigation.

If there were thousands of documents to review before, now there are millions. There aren’t enough law firm lawyers to review all those documents—companies can’t afford that luxury, not when the work takes months and most junior lawyers are billed out at $200-plus per hour.

But the documents have to be reviewed.And there are lots of lawyers to do the reviewing.

More and more attorneys are signing up to do this temp work, recruiters and lawyers tell me. And there’s more and more temp work to do since there is a growing amount of the activity that leads to big document reviews—namely, mergers and acquisitions and oversight of mergers and acquisitions. New recruitment agencies are cropping up all the time; they’re opening up offices around the city—some with windows and some without—dedicated to temp document review projects.

The District of Columbia Bar—the body that keeps track of lawyers in this city—says that there were 45,431 active lawyers in D.C. as of March 2007. Reliable numbers on the number of temp document reviewers for D.C. aren’t available—partly because the number is always changing (it is temporary work, after all) and partly because no one is keeping track. But recruiters tell me they estimate there are anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 lawyers doing temp document review on any given day. And they get more résumés every day.

If you ever want to feel good about your life, however bad it is, read a blog by Tom the Temp, a New York-based temp document review lawyer.

In Tom the Temp’s blog, which you can read at, I read about temporary attorneys slaving away in sweatshops, about cruel and inhumane workplace conditions including locked fire exits, filth, and blocked toilets. I also read that temp document review attorneys become stigmatized by their temp work—that once they’ve been temp document reviewers for a year or two, they can never move on to anything else—meaning they become an underclass of attorneys.

“The conditions were horrific. There were about 15 of us…packed into a small, windowless conference room,” the blogger writes. “It appeared as if the room had previously served as a supply closet.…Talking was forbidden. A heavy-set paralegal would periodically come around and bellow out in a deep, baritone voice to do, “more workin’ and less talkin’.” Like a child, you had to sign out to use the restroom.…One day, a middle-aged woman, who had recently been laid off from her in-house job, broke down in tears.”

About a project unexpectedly coming to an end: “Apparently, after having been promised six months of steady employment (many of us turned down other projects based on this assumption), over 100 of us were suddenly, without notice, dumped out onto the sidewalk just three weeks after the project had commenced…”

And describing a firm’s attempt to discover the identity of Tom the Temp and the ubiquity of same: “When you look with disdain at the ‘Temps’ or you encourage your employees to do so, you illustrate your morality. These ‘temps’ are people too, many of whom had dreams to be Perry Mason, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Clarence Darrow or Marty Lipton and not Perry Doc Review.…Look in the mirror, Tom the Temp is on every project, he is sitting next to you, he is a paralegal, he is an associate, he is a she, he has a friend who is a temp, he is your friend and he is your enemy and he may at times even yes, be YOU. I pray for a world where Tom the Temp is not necessary but unfortunately that may never happen.…WE ARE ALL TOM THE TEMP.”

Christopher Anderson is not Tom the Temp. He is, instead, a patient and bearish-looking guy with shaggy blond hair and a rumpled short-sleeved shirt who has been a document review lawyer since February.

Anderson, 39, was in private practice for 10 years in Rochester, N.Y. He and his father were the only attorneys in the practice, which encompassed just about everything—some criminal work, some civil litigation, a little of this and a little of that. Then Anderson married a mathematician who got a job in D.C., and he followed her here, thinking that with his “vast experience it would be no trouble to get a job with a small firm or with the public defender’s office.”

It was a lot of trouble. Anderson had a lot of interviews but no job offers. “At the public defender’s office, they said, ‘We’ve got a whole stack of résumés just like yours,’” he says.

Someone told Anderson about temp document review. He started doing it on a project that lasted for months. Then that job ended and another long-term project started. “I’ve been remarkably happy,” he says. “I’m making more money at this than at any other job I interviewed for and just about any other year in private practice. The work itself is mindless, which has its pluses and minuses. If I screw up, I don’t have to worry about my guy going to jail. In private practice, you never stop thinking about the case. With this, when you walk out of the door, it’s gone.”

Anderson says he expects—gladly—to do this work for another two years, by which time he’ll have paid off his student loans. He owed $110,000 when he graduated from law school and is down to $85,000 today. Then he can afford, he says, to take a more complicated job that is, in all likelihood, going to pay him less than half of what he can earn as a temp document reviewer.

He says that he hasn’t minded document review and doesn’t feel worried about much except keeping on working. “People are awful concerned about when the job will end,” he says. “But that’s a little more of the reality of the situation. They say that if you do this for more than a year that it’s a blot on your résumé. But to who? I’m not going to a big law firm anyway. I don’t think the work is nearly as rewarding as actually having clients, but I don’t think you’re untouchable because you’ve done it.”

Joseph Miller, 30, a temp document review attorney who graduated from New York Law School in 2002, also disavows any notion of a stigma. He’s just worried that the doc reviewers will stagnate on their own. There is no natural progression of temp document reviewing to any other job—and there are no real job training or networking resources available to them, either. Plus, he says, temp document review lawyers are prone to thinking of themselves as bottom-of-the-barrel and good for nothing but what they’re doing.

Miller started a Web site——that he’s hoping will get these lawyers thinking about training and careers. Elsewhere on the Internet, there are temp document attorney Listservs and online bulletin boards where temp document reviewers are hashing out these same issues, with various levels of angst and humor. There’s talk of unionizing, too, and lots of discussion of why the temp agencies take such big cuts.

I am told that the agencies are paid about $51 per hour, around $35 of which is given to the temp attorneys themselves. Temp document review wages haven’t increased in about two years. In fact, it looks like the wages are actually going down right now—to $32 an hour. It doesn’t bode well for temp document reviewers. This fall the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles about miserable recent law school graduates who can’t find jobs. And at the same time, applications to law school are finally going down. Perhaps by the time the temp document review jobs all get to India, there won’t be this surplus of lawyers in the U.S. to do the work, anyway. Here’s hoping the loans are paid off by then.

I met a former document reviewer one Saturday morning. He’s moved away from D.C., to a better job, but comes back to visit and is still active in the D.C. temp document reviewer community. He asked me not to publish his name.

This guy said there were a lot of upsides to this work—the money, the flexibility, the colorful co-workers. He said he’d managed to use the “temp” nature of this work to travel—he took projects in Connecticut and Los Angeles and New Orleans and all over America, wherever documents needed to be reviewed.

There were downsides, too­—the normal downsides of work, the particular downsides of this kind of work. But the worst part about this job, when he was doing it, was going home for Thanksgiving and trying to explain what he did to relatives. They knew he’d graduated from law school, but this wasn’t really being a lawyer; he didn’t have a full-time employer, he didn’t have a good story to tell them about what his job was all about, he didn’t know how to help them with their divorces and their slip-and-falls. Corporate lawyers and government lawyers couldn’t help their relatives with divorces or slip-and-falls, either, but at least they could tell a good yarn about who they worked for and what they did know about. He had to try to explain that he knew about documents.

And, like all the things you really can’t explain to your relatives at Thanksgiving, that was just embarrassing.

Our Readers Say

Again, I'd like to see the brother character explored a little more in depth. :)
Thanks for shedding more light on the business of contract attorney work! Nice article with personal accounts.

Yes, when I want to feel good about myself, I just read Tom's blog as well! :)
Love the article!!! it can't be more accurate, BTW if we were getting $35 p/h it will be fine, but they are temp agencies(Legal Source) that take advantage of the market and they pay you $29 with the promise of keeping you busy, when you have been out of work for months. they don't give you any type of incentives and they talk to you as they were doing you a favor. The problem is that the more work you do of this kind, you became ineligible for other projects because of a conflict of interest issue, as if you ever going to interfere with the clients outcome!!!
One thing you missed in the article is just how miserable everyone is and how abusive temps are to each other. When i was doing it I was shocked by the cattiness, the politicking and the sheer misery they heaped on one another. It was like the worst ugliest high school you could imagine.
Sounds like being a paralegal, but with more debt.

This is so depressing. Can i print this article out and hand it to every person who asks me "So when are you gonna apply to law school??"
good article. i'm a contract attorney.

what i would be really keen to see is some reactions from attorneys in firms to confirm or disprove whether the stigma of contract work actually exists or not.
It is worse than being a paralegal (except, maybe, than being a temp paralegal). A paralegal is, to be sure, a lower caste profession. But a paralegal is a firm employee, with firm benefits, generally regular hours, etc. A paralegal generally doesn't worry about when the project will end, because s/he has an expectation that another task at the same firm will take its place.

The temp attorney does not have these small pleasures.
I am amazed how quick everyone is to degrade paralegals. I was a litigation paralegal for six years before I went to law school. As an attorney, I practiced at a big defense firm ($$$), hated it, temped, and now have my own firm. I have done it all -- and, from my own (thankfully short) experience temping, I have no problem saying that most paralegals could run circles around temp attorneys. So, don't be so quick to put others down in an attempt to make yourself feel better. Paralegals are an absolutely integral part of the team.
i dare say that paralegals do FAR more substantive work - actually engaging their brains. as a contract attorney, there are days that i am certain the neurons upstairs have ceased to fire altogether. what is this mindless work doing to our once razor-sharp abilities to think critically at a fairly high level (or at any level, for that matter)?
Arin, thanks for reminding me that my time on Saipan will not help me get a job.
I'm barred in two states, did great in law school, I'm funny, attractive, definately the sharpest tool in most sheds and bottomline, I'll be a great Lawyer when I get the chance. It's like a deadend job without the job part. It's just deadend and unfortunately totally necessary to pay those huge law school loans for that mediocre school in florida. It's totally depressing and something has to be done to give contract attorneys more credit, more money and more exposure to the real practice of law. My bar number is worth a whole hell of a lot more than $35.00 an hour. We deserve to be paid the RIGHT price to rent our licenses.
I agree that paralegals are above the poor treatment and lack of respect to which they are commonly subjected. In fact, I would take a position as a paralegal (over the next doc review gig) in a heartbeat if I could find a firm that would give a licensed attorney a second glance for such work.
This article hit the nail on the head. I have temped on a couple of projects and I always felt dejected and half way through the project asked my self what I was doing there. I seriously do acknowledge the dangers of temping, such as losing whatever skills you may have had and not growing in the law, but I am still temping.
The faces you see on these projects to me appear defeated, scared to death of their lot and resigned to the temping bottomless ,knowledge robbing pit, especially, when the temp lawyers try to decorate their part of the long desk and computers as if they belonged there. Also when they do things to attract the attention of the staff attorneys or kiss their butts to ensure employment till the end of the project.

The staff attorneys whom I call the slave driver's security guard, watch over you and bark orders and sometimes try to date the ladies.

Oh, how I hate contract attorney work, but I still do it to pay the bills. Just for the bills, that's it. I really do not care about the temp agencies and I know they do not care about me.
I'm a recent graduate from out west. Still have not resorted to tenmp work, but with $100K in loans coming due in February, I may resort soon. We need to sue these law schools for promising us huge jobs (90% employment at graduation), then screwing us with huge loans.

What's with these Biglaw firms complaining they can't find talent? Half of the top ten at my Top 50 school is still unemployed! I've sent 500 resumes in three years and landed two interviews. Damn these firms, damn the law.
I'm in NC and am wondering where these $35/hr jobs are. All the temp jobs here are $20/hr - when you can get them, that is. I'd been working consistently since February, until the last 3 weeks. It's not looking good. Remind me again why I went to law school??
Fear not, temp-ers, there is life after TempTown, if you look for it hard enough. I temped for 2.5 years and made pretty decent money, but the working conditions were what ultimately drove me away--the psycho co-workers, stuck up associates, lying agencies, crowded work conditions around sneezing sick co-workers. I have recently been hired by a government agency where I will be returning to trial work. This story is very accurate. I would recommend that Temps who want to escape actually do something to practice law in a substantive manner outside of their day to day work. Little of what we do as temps is applicable to "real" law, so volunteer at some organizations, take on a client or two, muscle your way into events that practicing attorneys attend. Soon you will be hating your life enough to actually get away from the easy money! BTW, several of my new co-workers have recently admitted that they too have done doc review in the past. Funny, I didn't see it on their resume's!
I've temped as a paralegal for a legal staffing agency and worked as a staff recruiter for one as well. There are several myths/points that I would like to expel, or at least open up for further consideration:

1. Pay rates versus bill rates: A mark up of $51 over $35 is 45% of the actual pay rate to an attorney. Agencies have percent burdens-overhead if you will, like employee salaries, taxes, benefits (if the agency provides them), advertising costs and other costs associated with operating a business. Agencies are pretty lean when it comes to operations. For example, the retail industry marks products up by as much as 220% from actual costs of retail item prices!!! Buy a glass of house wine from a restaurant at $7/glass, that is as much as the bottle costs and you get five per bottle!!!

2. When I worked as a recruiter, I worked 7 days/week, at all hours of the day responding to both genuinely intelligent inquires and to absolutely petty things like, "Attorney so and so on project XYZ just said that she would 'slap the shit out of me...'" I beleive in commission based positions, much like that of a solo practitioner, you should be rewarded for what you put in.

3. Shouldn't professionals be cognizant of hiring trends, firm hiring requirements and market forces before pursuing degrees, instead of passing the buck to non-existing entities? You bet your ass if I were to pursue a Master's degree in Jazz Musicology, I better have talent, knowledge of music, specifically Jazz and drive!!!

4. You failed to comment on the fact that firms may or may not disclose the temporary nature of employment of its attorneys to a client. So, to stick with the theme of $51/hour, why didn't you comment on a firm billing out a temp attorney at $200-250/hour, which is and can be a common practice?

5. We live in a free market, subject to and controlled by market forces. If you want to incurr $150K worth of debt for a graduate program where 150,000 people are currently enrolled (I was on the BLS website and couldn't find info on the amount of practicing attorneys in the U.S.), of course new attorneys are going to drive down rates! When supply increases and demand remains the same or increases at a slower rate, what would you expect?

6. Law schools, schools in general are business as well. When an increase in interest or increase in demand occurs for law prgraoms, how else would our market react, but to increase the supply of law programs?

7. I have had tremendously good experiences working with attorneys both on temporary projects and on perm level searches and absolutely terrible ones. In whatever industry you work, you will have people that care and those that don't.

8. Temporary employment like this occurs in all sectors of industr-nursing, dental, accounting, finance, project management, architecture, manual labor, etc. It is not specific to the legal industry.
I completely agree with Escaped Temp Town. My temp experience was not as bad as the ones described in this article though. My temp experience is not reflected on my resume either. I did work on the side while I was temping and volunteered. Your Congressman's office is a good place to start if you are a new lawyer.
Most of the lawyers I worked with eventually found permanent legal jobs, so there is hope.
What I wouldn't give to have a project right now. Although, the article makes me take a step back and realize just how much I hate this world. I remember when I was graduating, they talked about temping like it was something that you do for a few months while you look for a real job. I can't get anyone to interview me, let along hire me.
The job is monotonous and boring and the hours long enough to deprive one of a normal social life. However, if you take seminars on how to do law and try to start a practice with several colleagues, it can be done. But you must remember that there are many lawyers that are amazed at how well they did after clearing $75,000 after costs, at the end of 10 years of practicing. On the other hand, there are always a few good cases in a lawyer's career when it is worth having paid your dues. The big law firms with the projects have gone about it all wrong. Do not put a lawyer who is about to get fired in charge of these projects. Instead, get an intelligent, sociable professional who is not going to treat a room full of professionals like kids after school in detention, or foster an atmosphere of spying and intimidation.Let the professionals do the work in peace. Get a real decorator to make a comfortable interior space with ergonomic chairs and desks-not tables- and some nice paneling and floors. Have the bathrooms and eating areas cleaned throughout the day and place break rooms with comfortable chairs with footrests.

There are bad placement agencies-avoid them. They usually pay less. The transition can be done, but do not stop thinking about, and acting on it.People get jobs after, and during, temping.Make resumes specific to a job-sending hundreds out does not work.
Philapro - you're missing one important factor - schools are businesses but are attracting students through lies (employment statistics for schools are ridiculous falsehoods). Everyone from the govt to the banks to the schools to the big firms benefit from this so nothing is done. Everyone that is but the lower tier attorneys. I agree that people need to be more diligent about the cost they incur when they go to a 3rd tier school for a huge amount of money (it lowers the value of my degree and the job possibilities) but they are clearly deceiving all potential students. And however you want to put it you, as a part of an agency, are taking advantage of this system and are working off the sweat of a deluded temp so your justifications ring a bit hollow.
Philapro - you're kind of an ass. Every job on the planet requires at least top 50% of the graduating class ranking. This means that at least half of every class is f***ed, and if they had taken your advice and not gone to law school, then half of the half of the class that was left would be just as f***ed.

Coming from a top 20 law school, I remember how students at lower ranked law schools couldn't believe that we were having a hard time finding jobs too. The whole system is pretty terrible.

Thanks for the depressing article .
You have a JD from CLS and can't get a decent job? Perhaps the problem is not the job market, but you?




I thought the article was a fair depiction. I'm not taking the situation so personally or myself so seriously. The CP has given doc review the mantel of a phenomena, and I'm developing my sense of humor. For a ditch digger (The world needs ditch diggers too, Danny.) we're a pretty well paid bunch. I'm saving up, that and buying scratch tickets.
That Chris guy sounds dreamy. Is there any way you could hook me up with him? I just go weak kneed for bear-like attorneys with blond hair. OOOOOOO
I just got paid $26.25 to read your article.
Still in the Dungeon, if you really were the sharpest tool, as opposed to just a tool, you'd know how to spell "definitely!"
Well, I am the attorney who called contract attorney document reveiw "hell on earth." I think Arin wrote an excellent piece, very well balanced, but doesn't reflect my experience as a temp.

I would have painted a much bleaker picture. The law firm (NYC downtown) told us after about three weeks of work, that we had to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week if we wanted to keep the job, and the temp agency told us if we quit this "project," they would no longer employ us as a temp. The "project" was expected to continue for another two months. One of the supervising attorneys decided that we couldn't eat our breakfasts at our desks, and we were further told that we might lose our jobs if we were more than 15 minutes late in the morning. (I have some time management issues.) I don't recall surfing the net at all--we had to go to the law library to check email on break at night.

The pay was $25 an hour, but it was 2002. The only satisfaction I remember receiving is when I told one of the supervising associates that I was taking a full-time position in Bali. . . .
Arin: Great piece. I am a doc reviewer in NYC and always have a hard time explaining to non-lawyers (or alternatively, confessing to lawyers) what it is that I do. It's nice to see that someone has put in writing all of the thoughts that pass through my head in the course of a regular day. Thanks!
A story about contract lawyers. Well, this is a story that only certain people in DC would care about.

I didn't realize that the CP was here to cater to the professional classes who don't give a fuck about anybody but themselves. Who was this story aimed at? Some fucking rich kid who is pissed he has to see how the real world is?

Boooo fucking hoo.

Find something worth writing about.

You really don't get it do you? Every lawyer isn't born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth, and every lawyer isn't from a hugely rich and successful family. A lot of these people (most, I would say) are from solid middle class and lower middle class backgrounds who somehow got the crazy notion in their head that working hard, sacrificing time and money, and having ambition would pay off in that they would have a real career with real prospects at advancement and growth. Instead, they get documents. Maybe you should really read the story instead of just seeing "laywer" and assuming "rich person."
I don't know if it's a stigma per se, but you definitely aren't learning any real skills as a lawyer, so you're still in the same quagmire as before: being an attorney (especially a new one) who isn't gaining any expertise that an employer can use. Reviewing documents for one, two, three years after law school, and you're still only qualified for entry-level positions.



Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo, Moo.


Good Article! My daughter a recent law grad, is doing this kind of work. I was thinking it could lead to better things at the firm, but now I understand why it doesn't. However, I must say that many of you "younger folks" (under 30yrs age), do not understand how good you have it. If you do not have a family, and can work and make this kind of money, you are doing better than a lot of people, (maybe even your parents, with college degrees and years of experience!) Also, there are many with Ph.d's who can't temp at something so easy, and also can't find a job. So count your blessings, save your money and lower your unrealistic expectations. If you want to work for the gov., go on line and read how to write a KSA. Also, consider gov. contractors. Really think outside of the box. Don't give up on your skills and abilities that got you through law school and the bar. You have lots of time to make money.
Great article. You hit on several key points, the main being that being a lawyer is not the money making, glamorous and interesting so-called 'profession' that most laymen think it is. It is a bizzaro world, upside down, life of misery, poverty and dreck at the hands of absolute snakes who run the legal profession. What you fail delve into is the fact that doc review has slowed down dramatically recently and that it will soon all be in India. There are very few good projects right now. Doc review has served as a type of un or underemployment insurance policy for many in these times of the massive glut of lawyers. Now that policy is going to India as we speak. You are likely to see a massive wave of loan defaults and sooner later, lawyers going "postal" in law offices or elsewhere in society. It's time for many to get out of the "profession".
Great article. You hit on several key points, the main being that being a lawyer is not the money making, glamorous and interesting so-called 'profession' that most laymen think it is. It is a bizzaro world, upside down, life of misery, poverty and dreck at the hands of absolute snakes who run the legal profession. What you fail to delve into is the fact that doc review has slowed down dramatically recently and that it will soon all be in India. There are very few good projects right now. Doc review has served as a type of un or underemployment insurance policy for many in these times of the massive glut of lawyers. Now that policy is going to India as we speak. You are likely to see a massive wave of loan defaults and sooner later, lawyers going "postal" in law offices or elsewhere in society. It's time for many to get out of the "profession".
The CP really needs to address why they ran this article at all. This piece of so-called journalism matters only to the lawyer class in Washington.

Sorry that your 10-35 dollars per hour is so hard on new lawyers. Why don't they try to work a menial job that pays much less?

Maybe you have to EARN your way into a law firm that pays. Are we supposed to believe that just because one had enough privilege to go to law school that one should make enormous amounts of MONEY?

The world isn't fair and most people work hard for low wages. If one dreamed of becoming a lawyer and having big cases and big money, then one should not have been watching LA Law back in the day. The Public Defenders office could use your help and you won't make much. But hey, at least you get to use your degree and serve others.

Now, lets get back to some real journalism and study some real issues. Instead of focusing on those that have it pretty good and are whining, how about a writing about those who have it pretty bad, but no voice.
To Scooter:

I don't know if you are just trying to be antagonistic, or if you really feel that all lawyers are privileged assh*les.

You suggest that these people should go the the PD's office and get jobs working for less money. I have news for you: You can't just walk into the Public Defender's Office, ask for a job and start working. I was a 4th year associate at a boutique firm before I left to do something "more admirable" and try to work for a non-profit or government agency. I applied for jobs at Legal Aid, the DC government, and various other non-profits and government departments. I didn't get ANY of them. I'm not boo-hooing my poor lot in life. I know that there are many people who have suffered far worse fates than having to accept a job for good pay doing mindless work.

You seem to think that all lawyers want high paying firm jobs, and that we're all just bitching that we have to work for the "low" wages from these temp jobs. (which, i might add, amount to easily 2x what i was making out of law school 4 years ago). You completely miss the point of Arin's article. It isn't that we feel that we're entitled to something for having gone to law school. It's that there just aren't any jobs for us.

Go ahead an argue that this is irrelevant. Lawyers make up at least 10% of the population in DC, and probably far more.
Hickory dickory dock
these temps were codings some docs
the partner pursued
a deal ensued
and they dumped the temps off the next block.
oh man.. this article was SO GREAT. and may have singlehandedly convinced me to NOT go to law school.

Why don't you contribute something to the discussion instead of just spouting out nonsense. "Rich kids?" "Enough privilege to go to law school?" Do you seriously believe this? Truth is, plenty of law school graduates are normal folk, maybe like you or people you know. There are plenty of ambitious young people, but there are also fathers and mothers and normal middle-aged people of every race and creed who've worked menial jobs and everything else, and who thought that law school might lead to a better life. Instead they find a profession that has no intention of giving them a real chance to practice and grow. Open your eyes.
Hudson Global Resources is a staffing agency who's NY office is run by blood-sucking, blacklisting, shifty a-holes!
What I find interesting is how 40,000 new JDs are created each year, yet law firms continually complain about how there are so few qualified candidates for employment. Either law schools are failing in their job to eduate these graduates (likely), or law firms should consider the possibility that more than just the top grads from the top schools are capable of someday becoming good lawyers.
hmm, that is such a great comment. the reall zinger is how they always say that they have so few diverse candidates.

now, compare the demographics of a typical project team, to the demographics of full-time associates and partners. see any disparities?
Hmm and Hmm2, don't forget the fact that most big firm associates leave within a few years anyway, so it should be pretty clear that only hiring "top candidates" isn't necessarily a wise long-term investment on the part of these firms.
I think that there should be a website dedicated to exposing unethical and false promising legal recruiters, i mean head hunters.

They promise the world, produce nothing and take 50% of your income. Great job.

There is a good reason why they always start you on Thursday or Friday.
because they dont have to pay you overtime.

Great article. I graduated from law school in the early 90's, during a recession, and struggled to find work. It worked out in the end.

Part of the problem is the disconnect between how the media portrays lawyers and the practice of law is so removed from reality. In this regard, the WashPost had an article over the summer about the many summer associates who were wined and dined for doing nothing -- without mentioning how few students get those large firm opportunities or how hard associates work at large firms upon graduation. My observation is that law school tends to be a safe haven for liberal arts majors who want a defined and well paying career and don't know what else to do, as though they've "made it" in the world merely by getting into law school. I think many of the posters here feel mislead that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, despite the cost and effort. If most law school applicants knew how few lawyers make the big bucks, relative to the cost of law school, they'd do something else.
Good article and great comments (except from that a-hole Scooter who apparently has a inferiority complex). If it has discouraged just one person from wasting his or her time in law school, it was well worth the effort. If you don't get into a top school or a decent school and do very well, you might as well forget about making big money as a lawyer. Do yourself a favor and get an MBA--or better yet become an electrician, you will never be outsourced.
It seems like many of these people share the attitude of "how'd I get here in life? I was accepted into law school!"

Big deal. What law school did these people go to? How hard did they work? Did they try to get a job as a real lawyer? Did they stick to it when the going got tough?

In Greenwood's prior article, he mentioned that he was in Guam or American Samoa or somewhere like that. Why did he go there with his law degree? That would fill in more of the story. Lots of junior lawyers in big firms in Northeastern cities dream of just quitting and going someplace with a lot more sun. But instead they stick to it, and make careers for themselves. Why didn't Greenwood do that? The idea that these temp lawyers just fell into their situation, and are somehow being victimized by the legal profession, is false. In Greenwood's case it's disingenuous.
I loved document review. I worked with a great group of people (with some few exceptions), was paid a great rate ($37/all you can work plus expenses), and I hope made a great contribution. Of course I should say that I'm not an actual attorney - but my project needed someone to clarify the science involved, and clarify some patent law involved - and in that sense, I did my service.

I'd take that same job in a New York minute if offered again, but family issues intervened - it was great while it lasted.
Contrary to popular belief, there is life after temp work. I temped for a year, while looking for perm position in a niche field and a small market. It looked bleak for a while, but I did manage to land a job as an associate at a big firm. I'm now transitioning into an even bigger firm, doing what I always wanted to do. I know I'm extremely lucky and that it happens to very few temp attorneys, but it's not impossible.

No, I didn't put my temp experience on my resume. Not now, not anymore. Interviewers do ask me about the gap in my resume, and I respond honestly. As far as I can tell, it didn't hurt me in any substantive way.
"Comment: By: Just Say No (to Law School) Nov. 10, 2007, at 11:14 pm
Good article and great comments (except from that a-hole Scooter who apparently has a inferiority complex)."

Is it not just such a lovely thing that language can evoke strong emotions? In this case, "Just Say No" has actually proven my point about this article serving a small minority of the population, who fancy themselves to be above it all. There is no "inferiority complex" on my part. Evidently though, you believe that you or the poor overpaid saps in question are superior. Your weak Ad hominem attack says much of what real people already know.

Yes there are many lawyers in Washington, it is political city, at least on the Hill. But there are many other people living in Washington, (who actually grew up here) that work hard and don't make much.

Sorry, we don' give shit about your sorry lot in life. Your fucking whining about being underpaid at $35 per hours is a joke. And the fact that the CP ran this story speaks volumes about the increasing lack of journalistic integrity and respect for the mission the CP claims to serve.
I became a new lawyer in late middle age. I worked as a temp attorney in Washington from early 1998 until March of 2002. In my years between college and law school I had held several diverse jobs here and in Europe. I never experienced any work environment so inhumane before I began this work, and memories of it still rankle. Temps are held in barely veiled distain by almost everyone in any DC firm. It is bad enough to be looked down upon, or simply invisible to, a partner; but even paralegals like to get their licks in. Between the lies of the Temp Pimps at the staffing agencies and the kick-you-to-the-curb manners of the firm staff, legal temps have to face the dead end hopelessness of the trade. Some temps handle it better than others. Some merely cheat the firm of hours, some fall off third floor hotel balconies. No matter what the survival rate, no matter how large the trickle-down wages may seem, it is difficult to justify the use-them-up-throw-them-out reality of legal work in DC. It is truly a vile culture and although the writer points to the truth, it comes across as one dimensional. One has to experience sixteen hour days in a former warehouse in the hinderlands of Maryland. Swill is trucked in and the septic system, originally designed for 4 or 5 people, overflows because there are eighty fungible temps on site. Everyone is opposed to stopping production to fix the problem. Two weeks later the place is shut down again to kill the fleas. Did I mention that many projects eventually come down to 7 days-per-week?
Usually one or two temps will kiss up enough to be assigned real authority. Ah yes, the overseer is born. Divide and conquer. You watch your back while you watch a screen in front. If you are very lucky, at first there will not be much pressure on you. Soon you realize that absent the tension, you are faced merely with the mind-numbing boredom. Be patient, the tension will soon surface. After several months of this, you find yourself coming back to you samsonite chair at 4:00am and noticing that everyone there looks like Keith Richards.
Ok, get out of it or shut up. Who cares about the plight of lawyers anyway?
No one, really. Not even the temps. Considering the trend of sending business offshore, it probably would be counterproductive for temps to unionize at this late date. As much as I would like to see law firms have to call a union hall instead of a bloodsucker agency, it will never happen. Temps themselves are too divided and too scared to get together and stand in numbers against the monoliths of crap they face in order to live while paying down their school debt. Saddest of all is the fact many temps view this whole nightmare as temporary. Some day, surely, some firm will see their hidden greatness and call them to the high table. Pitiful!
Vincent Savage
I am going to give you all the same advice that I gave my daughter who will graduate this June with a J.D. and incredible debt. The most competitive legal markets in the country are D. C. and NYC. Graduates in the top 10% of the top 20 law schools get jobs in these cities. DC and NYC are also two of the most expensive cities in the country in which to live. Not a smart choice if you have a lot of law school debt.
Lawyers are needed in every other city in the country.
Take the bar in your home state. Try to get a job in your home town or in another less competitive market. Think outside the box. Don't just apply to law firms. Having a J.D. means that you can write well and that you have strong analytical skills- assets that are in demand by employers in every field. Take the Federal Civil Service Test. Federal job benefits are fantastic and you can get part of your loans forgiven, not to mention that it is rewarding work because you are being of service to your fellow citizens. Send applications to State and Municipal entities in your home state. Teach a business law course at a local community college.
Move back home for two to three years, so you can apply most of your yearly salary into debt payoff rather than toward exhorbitant living expenses. Remember how fast three years of law school flew by!
Finally, get involved politically. Pay equity is important to every worker in the US. Today, many hospitals even outsource the reading of radiological scans to physicians overseas. If physician and lawyer jobs are being outsourced overseas, no job is safe in this country!
To Scooter:

Have you ever read the city paper before? Ever notice how all their lead articles are about issues that relate/apply to very few people? Like about a band trying to make it, or three guys terrorized by their psycho mooching neighbor, or a fat kid being chased by child protective services. The fact that that write about random shit of interest to relatively few people is what makes it kind of ... interesting.

And what's this "journalistic integrity" crap? People can't write about those who are paid more than you would prefer? So much for Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, etc. then. If you don't like it, don't read it. It's not like you had to pay for it.
AN ALTERNATE TAKE. I enjoyed the article, as I'm currently working as a contract attorney one of the bigger projects in the DC area right now. Most of the stuff in the article is true, but I wanted to add a few observations:

1) GENERALLY NICE PEOPLE - The people I've worked with (and the attorneys I've worked for) on the 6 or 7 projects I've been on haven't been nearly as bad as those in the article . . . and of course, that's probably why they didn't make the article. Nice, normal people don't usually make for interesting stories for an expose-type article. Of course, my bosses have had to hide information from us at times, like when a project would end . . . but think about it, this whole sub-industry exists because of the ability of the placement agencies to provide qualified labor quickly, and the ability to end projects abruptly (which is how thinks work in the legal world . . . settlements happen in the blink of an eye).

2) PAY - I'm shocked that anyone thinks $35/hour with time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours is a rip-off. Most of these projects include some overtime at the $52.50 OT rate (often 15-20 hours of OT a week) so that ends up being a huge part of the equation. For example, I'm probably going to make around $50,000-$55,000 during the second half of 2007 alone. I was sworn in on June 11th, with bottom-third-of-the-class grades from a school ranked in the 80's in USNEWS . . . so making the equivalent of $100K a year ain't bad.

3) BENEFITS - Yeah, benefits would be nice, but guess what, if you're a healthy male in your late 20's, like I am, insurance isn't that expensive (I signed up for mine through the DC Bar's affiliate, by the way). I can't speak for others, and I'm not making a general comment on the state of insurance in America or anything, but for someone in my situation, I'd much rather make $100K and have to pay a few hundred dollars a month for basic insurance than make $50K and have free insurance (which most people in my demographic won't use that heavily, anyway . . . knock on wood).

4) LAW JOBS SUCK, GENERALLY - One thing the article fails to point out is that even those people who get the ideal, big-firm jobs often hate their jobs. Two of my closest friends in law school got associate jobs at top 10-15 firms. One has already quit after roughly a year, and the other is dissatisfied and looking for other options. And although these people make more money, and have something great to put on their resumes, they're treated much worse than contract attorneys, in some ways. Getting important blackberry emails they have to respond to at midnight, or on a Sunday afternoon during NFL games . . . having to work insane hours without the OT pay incentive that we hourly employees have . . . having to try to get in good with the a-hole bosses . . . having to deal with a-hole associates from Columbia Law School or somewhere who act like that makes them superior to everyone else, etc. (sorry, but I've never met anyone from that place who wasn't a complete a-hole, and that includes at least 15 people!) If anything, being a contract attorney involves dealing with much less BS than being an associate typically would.

5) AN OUTSIDE LIFE - One thing I like about being a contract attorney is that it's all about the money. I'm not expected to sacrifice everything else in my life. A lot of the people I've worked with as a contractor are into music, acting, traveling, nonprofit stuff, and perhaps most importantly, spending time with their families.
Thank god there are some fellow diehard Andrew Dice Clay fans out there! The recent VH1 reality show was awful, and he's really only made one true masterpiece: that'd be "The Day the Laughter Died, PART TWO." But his legacy lives on, brother, on!

OK, you already used the best one, and even managed to match the punchline. But in the spirit of time-wasting, here goes nuttin':

Young J.D. Jill
spurned from the Hill
thought she might as well temp
just for now

At least it was good that
she’s getting a foot in
at Dewey, Cheatham & Howe


# Comment: By: thetempmancommeth Nov. 09, 2007, at 2:52 pm
Hickory dickory dock
these temps were codings some docs
the partner pursued
a deal ensued
and they dumped the temps off the next block.
Thank god there are some fellow diehard Andrew Dice Clay fans out there! The recent VH1 reality show was awful, and he's really only made one true masterpiece: that'd be "The Day the Laughter Died, PART TWO." But his legacy lives on, brother, on!

OK, you already used the best one, and even managed to match the punchline. But in the spirit of time-wasting, here goes nuttin':

Young J.D. Jill
spurned from the Hill
thought she might as well temp
just for now

At least it was good that
she's getting a foot in
at Dewey, Cheatham & Howe


# Comment: By: thetempmancommeth Nov. 09, 2007, at 2:52 pm
Hickory dickory dock
these temps were codings some docs
the partner pursued
a deal ensued
and they dumped the temps off the next block.
Interesting and false article. I've worked with and yes supervised contract attorneys for several years and I can explain why they are at the bottom of the attorney ladder...they are awful. Over 90% of the document reviewers out there are unemployable. Sure they all have stories about their previous jobs in government or large firms but as a whole I can't figure out how they passed the bar. The good ones do this for less than 6 months, the bad ones forever. They lack professionalism and social skills required to work a real job and the talent level required is just short of clicking chimp needed for document review is perfect for them.

If I had a dollar for everyone who said they were leaving for a real job and were back to temping 6 months later, I'd be able to retire.

Finding good contract attorneys is like finding an honest politician, you know they are out there. You just can't find them.
Re: Dave Fortay
Of all the remarks found here, Mr. Fortay's speaks the loudest. He admits to having been a wage-slave trader then shares his warped opinion of temp attorneys. If they are all unemployable, then why does the temp business exist? Bloodsuckers can not live, nor wear Rolex watches and drive Mercedes if there is no blood to be sucked. If his stock-in-trade is so lowley, then what does that make him? His expressed attitude should be a billboard notice to all involved in this dirty business and should be required reading for every undergrad thinking of committing himself or herself to the 3-year root canal of law school and to a lifetime of indenture.
I believe that the City Paper has started something here. It should take this ball and run with it because there is a lot of inside dirt that needs to be unearthed. Law firms make multiple agencies on a project agree to pay their temps the same wage. Clearly anti-competetive. Some agents misclassify temps as independent agents working for the business to which they are assigned. This allows the Pimp to free itself of IRS responsibiulity yet maintaining controll over the temp. My experience in such a situation involved a woman who subsequently became a committe chair on the DC Bar Association. It became necessary that I seek a correction of status from the IRS which determined that I and several others on the project were indeed her employees.
As this business is carried out behind closed doors sans light and fresh air allows it to continue unregulated. Within these sweatshops divisions will fester. Sexism, racism and general jocking for personal advancement, as pathetic as it is, seem to be normal conditions of employment. However, these practices continue because they are neither open to public view nor likely to be investigated by leagl authorities or regulators.
This forum is a start, but the City paper and temps themselves must dig deeper and face some dangers of being blackballed if any positive change is to occur. Many temps are not young new lawyers who simply face loan debt. Many are married and have tremendous responsibilites. This is not a light -hearted game to them. It is serious BUSINESS.
I've been out of the temp world for three years, after spending three years in the trenches, and it was some of the most fun that I ever had. Surfing the web. Bullshitting all day. Great cash. Just what a young lawyer needs when he rolls into a new town and is trying to spread his social wings.

True, some neurons atrophied away and the "end of project" axe was constantly dangling over my head, but it was nice in a weird way.

Now I work for the government. I hustle. I craft decisions and send out legal memos. I deal with law firms on a daily basis while they try to protect their client's financial interests. In essence, I do "lawyer" stuff.

But despite the more rewarding work and better lifestyle my current position gives to me, the best moment of my federal job was when that first application came across my desk from an old law firm that I temped at. This law firm treated their temps like absolute sh*t and I remembered. Ohhh, how I remembered.

Now, in my position no one's life or liberty is endangered, although a corporation's financial interests might be on the line. I have some discretion in how to proceed in my job functions. I can waive errors and formalities to speed up the wheels of justice. I can hold their hand and help them navigate the perils of government regulations. Or I can be a stickler for every regulatory nit-pick, take the law firm to task for bringing their legal drivel into my office, and (metaphorically) kick their client to the curb.

Can you guess which road I most often take?

Hint: You reap what you sow.
Hello Arin
Nice article. Spot on, too. Thank you, City Paper, for running it. Anyway, forget unionizing. It'll never happen, or be effective if it does. Here's a thought: you know how Washington has its list of the "100 Best Lawyers in Washington"? Well, the City Paper should do the same but for the "100 Best Document Reviewers." Then things might change.
I don't think you should have a job writing articles when in the title you use "J.D." yet in the entire article you fail to explain that a "J.D." means "Juris Doctor". Take your initials and shove them up your ass !
this article reminds me of why i did *not* go to law school, despite being someone who comes from six generations of lawyers. [i'm black. there have been lawyers in my family since 1870.]

i was, however, a legal secretary at one of those top-flight law firms for a while. at that particular firm, the secretaries were paid more than the staff attorneys, and the pay alone reminded me of why i didn't take a teaching position at two local universities when they were offered to me. that pay is really nice when you are single and childless or your kids are grown.

i put most of my salary in the bank, bought a house, rented out the rooms, and then quit my job and backpacked around the world. that's how nice the big law firms pay their secretaries. with pay like that, why be a lawyer?

find work that will pay the bills and make sure that, no matter what, you put a nice chunk of it in your 401k. [i was putting nearly 20% in either my 401 or roth plans.]

i have a huge amount of undergrad and grad school debt, and they will get it all back eventually. but i'm in no big rush. consolidate, get the lower payments, and invest the balance of what you would have been paying. if you had bought gold, oil shares, or euros 5 years ago instead of that plasma screen tv or new car, you would have doubled your money by now -- need i say more?
I worked as a big firm associate here in DC for a number of years. The article mentions that big firmers "go to court" and "write." That's not necessarily accurate. In my experience, associates at "prestigious" law firms tend to wallow in the same doc or priv reviews as temps when the going is lean (or the client is stupid enough to pay for it), or they get note taking tasks, or spend weeks updating spreadsheets etc. How about summarizing each of the thousands of docs deemed relevant by twenty reviewers over six months? Does 240 billable hours a month doing summaries of summaries of summaries sound enticing? Second review? Why is this newspaper article marked as privileged? Fun fun. There's no Elixir of Perry Masonism out there. Bottom line: no one will pay well for you to do fulfilling work. That's the trade off. You want money? Hello Satan, how may I start reviewing documents for thee?
I too am a document reviewer, JD and licensed. My comment is: if you don't like what you do, move on. For many people the temporariness and flexibility are a great benefit if you are only doing this while looking for another position. But I have yet to know any attorneys who have really high job satisfaction - if you work at the big firm you've got bill 2000 hours a year. If you are in public service, you work all the time and make no money, if you are in solo practice you are always worried over having enough business to pay the bills.

I take myself and the work I do seriously. The work IS "relevant" to every major litigation. No, its not my long term career goal but I accept it for what it is and brag every opportunity I get to my associates toiling at Legal Aid or the big firm or in solso practice about the perks my job does offer. Every job in this world is important, even document reviewers. Respect yourself first, then others will too.
Yeah. you speak for me too. as one comment says, we need to find a way to sue these law schools who keep seducing us with their lying websites. what's wrong with having ambition, and working hard to be part of the best profession in the world? why do we have to be treated like lepers just because we are document reviewers? This is a sick country when nobody gives a shit about this problem what is the ABA doing? Somebody needs to do something. This is evil, sick, bullshit. It is rotten to the core, and we need to do something about it now.
There are certainly a plus side and minus side of being a document reviewer.

I recently got my J.D. and passed the bar, but the job market is simply horrible for lawyer. So, I ended up working as a document reviewer.

The plus: flexible schedule, gives me time to look for full-time jobs/actual law jobs, relatively no stress, easy boss, pays the bill (more or less), and interesting co-workers.

The minus: boredom, repetitive nature, not truly using my law degree, and you merely need to have a high school diploma to do most of these work.

This article certainly shed more light to my current situation. I certainly wonder what it truly meant to be an attorney. Graduating from law school and passing the bar but only to find oneself working on something totally different from what one was trained for. Nevertheless, a job is a job in this rough legal market.
A couple of things to clarify. To the nice mom of a law student who suggested a person go elsewhere to practice: You still have to be really careful to where that is. Here in Minnesota, we have FOUR law schools for a population of 5 million. You have to be very lucky to get a doc review job, and, when you do, it pays $25 an hour with little overtime. (Yes, the cost of living here is lower, but not that much.) There are some small towns that need a lawyer, but they are reluctant to hire someone who isn't from there, because they know it's unlikely you'll stay long.

Yes, there are some morons doing doc review. However, I've been in a position to meet plenty of lawyers from small, medium, and large firms, and I don't think the moron percentage is much higher among the doc reviewers than elsewhere.

To Scooter, who needs some anger management: Some of us would have been thrilled to take jobs at $30,000 a year representing poor people, but I graduated just outside the top ten percent of my class (after putting in 80 hour weeks of study and work) and couldn't get one!

This situation was a long time coming and was the result of many variables. People SHOULD stop going to law school, especially if they have to take loans to do it. (I can't tell you how happy I would be to see some lazy professors on the unemployment line.) Even if they are brilliant and hardworking and highly motivated, the odds are very much against them unless they have family who can hire them. I'm not sure what I would tell a kid to do nowadays. I guess the advantage to anything you can do with a vo-tech degree is that, if the bottom falls out of your job market, you haven't spent that much money and can afford to go back and retrain yourself.

I'm not even asking for $35 an hour. But I'm middle-aged now, and I'd like to know where I'll be working next Monday. I know that's a harder thing for all of us to know than it used to be....
I did doc review for a while and actually didn't mind the work. Met good friends and some interesting people. Unfortunately in Florida there is just no way to earn a living doing it. $20 per hour is the norm and the work is completely unstable.
My desire: To organize theTemp Document Lawyers. I comment later.
My desire: To organize theTemp Document Lawyers. I'll comment later.
My desire: To organize theTemp Document Lawyers. I'll comment later. 202.423.8255
I've been a doc reviewer for a few years now and I think the article was great. It accurately hit on how it can be really great and how it can be really not so great.

You trade in your ego and pride for a stress-free but monotonous and future-uncertain gig, but if you can afford to take the risks (or if don't believe that you have a choice--and let's face it, we actually DO), it's not so bad. The nature of the job makes is difficult because you are dealing with a lot of attorneys with different issues and perspectives. I think there are two main groups of doc reviewers--the 'us' and the 'them' groups.

First there are the attorneys with the huge egos ("them") who are angry that they ended up here for whatever reason. They are un-hireable becase of their school/performance, the job market, etc. but whatever the reason, they once had or still want a 'real job' and they are steaming that they are 'reduced' to this grunt work. These folks are the poison in the atmosphere that make the negative environment so toxic and 'catty' as another commenter put it. They try to get in good with the staff attorneys and play ridiculous games to try and secure (or more accurately convince us that they are more secure) than everyone else and only they have the real scoop on what's 'going on.' Competitive, petty, and overly paranoid are these unfortunate souls that can really ruin a good gig, no matter the length. They just refuse to make the most of it. The sad thing is, most of these staff attorneys see right through people like that and the negative bunch only end up screwing themselves in the end.

I am frankly happy with the freedom and although not every day is easy, I like working for different firms and meeting new people.The difference between us and 'them' is that I chose to be positive and enjoy the work while I have it and refuse to play the petty games that end up burning bridges and lead straight into karma's fast lane. The truth is, yes, the market is competitive for 'real attorney jobs' but that's just the truth. Like it or not, the reason that we end up in doc review jobs is ultimately by choice. It's a hard pill to swallow, but it is true. Nothing comes easy in the legal work field, and frankly, if you really want to do something else, then you need to work (perhaps very hard) to make that happen. If you really want to do something else, then do just it. Let the rest of us happy doc reviewers enjoy making the most of it and actually have a good time.
How foolish am I to think I'm the few attorneys got stuck doing doc review job...
Have some personal pride people! YOu are all depressing. You have all accomplished a lot graduating from law school and passing the bar. For those doing contract attorney work you are working on some of the most important cases where millions of dollars and peoples lives are at stake, you find these cases in the paper all the time. Now isnt that exciting.

Everything has a downside and an upside. Permanents at big firms are misrerable, you hear it all the time working long STRESSFUL hours, they have money and prestige yet a lot want to get out. At small firms there is no payoff making below average salaries with a law degree.

You can get out of temping if you want to. Maybe you can't go to the best firm at first but the smaller firms might take you if you keep at it, impress them, have some dignity and confidence and from there you can possibly move up in the small firm or to a big firm after some years of experience. Lets not kid ourselves we do this for the easy money and is that so bad? If you want more satisfaction but more stress and hard work then apply to smaller firms and work there. A lot of them dont know exactly what we are doing so inflate what you do. We have a choice that we EARNED, we can be lazy and make some easy money or we can choose more "fulfiling (if it is even so) and "prestigous" work. You can choose! Be a cryer, you will cry here doing temp work and believe me you will cry if you were full time at a big firm, or have some dignity.
Thanks for writing this article. Truer words were never written. Thirteen years removed from this lifestyle and reading this wrings so true... almost as if it were my life yesterday (except now, it's all done on computers). It literally was hell on earth. A few random thoughts. First, a few friends I graduated with got jobs at big firms in DC. Their complaints were always, "I hate my life" -- so we were even. While I was in doc review, they were being pounded for not knowing the law (rather, not knowing it as the partner did). Second, after a few months, I got it. I got what DC law was. So I camped out in my dining room for a month, honed my math skills. Did more GMAT math questions than humanly possible, pouring over it again and again. Took GMAT, went back to b-school and became a management consultant. Now, on the occasion when my friends (who are now firm partners) and I hang out, they always lament, "you lucky son-of-a-b, you got out."

By the way, if you got back to your respective towns outside of DC, you either practice law with the five firms in town that do law, or you don't... you find work in another industry like... "energy" (at least in Houston).
I read most of the comments here and half of the article above. I've been doing doc review for about 1 year in total (3 gigs). I ended up here b/c I worked in several small firms, and the pay sucked but the work environment sucked even more. So, we're not here doing doc review b/c we're morons but the options seem limited, at least to a recent grad who can't get into a large firm but dislike small firms.

There are some positive things that I've learned and like to share them with you.

1) On Loans. I wanted to lower my loans ASAP. To do this, I live at home (and will for another year or 2) and actually pay $2K/mo. Even when I was working at small firms, I paid this amount consistently, since I didn't have to pay rent. It seems to me that it'll take a family effort to get the principle down. Once I explained to my parents that I'm spending $500/mo in interest alone, they gave me in total $8K over a year. If you're lucky enough to live at home, it's one way to help yourself.

Loan companies will tell you the "minimum" monthly payment. This is mostly interest and won't reduce the principle. If you only pay the interest, 10 years from now, you'll still have the same principle amount!

2) The doc review jobs are not as bad as this article says. Maybe I was lucky. There's always 1 staff attorney out of 2-6 that's anti-social/bizarre. But they also get 10x the s**t from their partners and are stressed like hell. So, it's displaced stress and maybe power-trip when they are abusive to temp attorneys. But power-plays are everywhere, it's inescapable no matter what you do.

3) On two occasions, a staff attorney acted out of line by barking at me or arm-twisting me. When I stood up for myself politely but firmly, they backed down. It's also about teaching them how they can treat you too. This is def applicable at a perm job.

4) A senior doc reviewer taught me how to apply what I'm doing to real world. I'm review a bank that's being investigated for unsavory activities. He made me realize that

(a) I'm learning how the current economic meltdown happened. How it's possible that these banks bankrupted itself.
(b) I'm exposed to the world of stock market and terms that I've never known before.
(c) When I re-read the booklet that they gave me, I'm seeing in it a new light and it makes sense to me.
(d) When i go to the interview, I can talk about my 1yr experience not as "I review doc all day" but I know the large pic of this field and this problem and can speak of it in details.

After several exp. in this intersting world of law, I'm learning this motto:
For excuses I use to "relatives" or whatever.

1) I tell them that I couldn't survive on small firm salary, so I'm doing this until I figure out my next step.

But I figured out that being concerned over other people is a trap. I just do what works for me and my future. So there!
can anyone comment on the temp experience out here on the west coast? i'm thinking about getting out of the law firm life and do contract work until i figure out my next step, but there isn't a whole lot of info about the work out here. for example, good agencies to register with? typical pay and stability of the work?

thanks in advance.
It is not only students who do not graduate in the top 10 % who are f***ed.
Anything strange on your resume (you passed the bar without going to law school in the US, you went to law school where ?) (I see you were not a summer associate in your second year) ...
disqualifies you.

Add to that the deluge of lawyers, the perception of being a deal killer that makes law not a worthwhile pursuit. Basically you cannot find a job in business and the practice of law does not pay the bills.

I know many docreview attorneys who would not go to law school if they could do it again.
This doesn't sound so bad. The work is mindless and pays decently. As long as the commute isn't bad, and you get OT, you can make pretty decent money. The legal field is awful and very few will find fulfilling careers out of it. If this gets you out of debt and can get you a decent amount of capital, you can then do something you might really love like starting your own business, writing a book, investing, pretty much anything. It sounds like 5-6 years of this knocks out your student loans and gives you a decent amount of capital.

I'll probably go with this soon. I passed the bar but haven't been working since I graduated in May. I wasn't much of a law student, I knew I hated law and had no interest in working at a big firm or at the DA or PD. I wasn't really sure what to do. I've essentially been on vacation for roughly 4 years. If I can work a year, pay off a bunch of loans, take another month off, then do this again, that's not a bad cycle for me.
Doc review work is humiliating.
Um... why don't we revolt. I mean, why don't we raise heck with the ABA and tell them to stop accrediting all these schools. We need to unionize and revolt.

A great the end of the day, as unfortunate as the situation is for law grads who thought getting a JD in the first place was going to make their lives better (it is after all, albeit incorrectly, still thought of as a path to success), doc rev is still somewhat relevant to the study and discipline that we undertook. As such, maybe it is better to maximize the experience in marketing oneself for other opportunities. Doc rev is apparently not valuable or credible in terms of bootstrapping into a big firm job (anyone know otherwise?).
Good article. I believe that there is a market for docuement reviewers as evident by the sudden rush of companies and large law firms outsourcing this work overseas. There is no need to go overseas as there are plenty of U.S. attorneys that are graduates of ABA schools and have passed a State Bar Exam. I run a virtual web site at and routinely provide document review services for clients. Since I am virtual I can help keep costs down. Plus, I am an experienced litigation attorney; therefore I am confident that I can understand the relevant legal issues important to the case that I am reviewing documents for compared to an overseas company.
Good article! Thank you for recognizing the work of a document reviewer. Here, in my hometown Cebu, Philippines, there is only one sub-contracting company that offers, but unfortunately due to mismanagement of the Group manager who doesnt have any experience in document review, many lost their job. Anyway, if any big lawfirm, wants to venture out, just inform us here. We are 100+ (lawyers and barristers) all certified.
Be glad that you have a document review gig. These will soon be outsourced to India, if it is not happening already. Then you won't even have this to complain about.

I graduated two years ago with great internships and have great references. I haven't been able to even get a document review job. I've registered in person with about 4-5 agencies and sent resumes into at least a dozen more without getting a response. The agencies I register for I try to keep updated but they never call me back with jobs.

I've been struggling by with per diem work. Several law firms do use me for court appearances and the like. It's not much of a living but technically it does pay more per hour than the document review would. None of these places wants to hire me full time and assures me that I'm not doing anything wrong and in fact they are very impressed with me.

I don't know if it is the economy or what not. I honestly would kill to get a good doc review job at $35/hr that kept me out of court and gave me a steady income.
I discovered recently that many agencies that advertise for JD document reviewers don't actually have the contracts, that they are merely gathering up a list attornyes to use in their proposal while they are bidding for the jobs...if they win the bid, they continue to use the same reviewers, which means if you don't already have experience as a document reviewer or have not been used by the company recently you're application/resume is simplying being used as well as your time in those worthless interwiews. I think that sucks and shame on those agencies for taking advantage of us and not telling us the truth prior to wasting our time.
I’m a recent J.D. grad (super special right) that just got a “I will get a bar letter that I will have to fill in” from a boss I quit on after getting paid 10.00/hour to take all the clients crap and the offices as well. I just applied to my first reviewer job-but first-goggled up my legal resources to inquire on what it entailed. I really enjoyed this! It’s good to know there are others out there that see what I’m seeing; not everything that glitters is gold and most gold smells like shit anyhow, lol.
-Wish me luck as I embark on my law career armed with nothing but my backpack of human rights aspirations, 100,000++ students loan debt and a very large bottle of whiskey.
Love the article! Someone sad that doc review work is humiliating, but if you need money you do it.
Im an associate attorney at a small firm just outside D.C. Before this I was a doc reviewer. Honestly its all a trade off. If you become an associate, your pay will likely go down and your stress level will shoot up. (Oh and my firm didnt give a shit that I once did doc review)..Im thinking of jumping back into the doc review waters. So dont think that by becoming a 'real attorney' your life gets any better....
I think it should also be mentioned that many firms over-hire and over-staff projects simply to prevent contract attorneys from reaching the hour threshold for benefits. - We know this is happening and aren't as stupid as you think we are or treat us. I hope you assholes are happy knowing that you saved a few bucks while somebody has a baby on the way or a severe medical condition.

The most humiliating part of doc review is siting at your desk as new, fresh out of law school attorneys are given the "tour." I love seeing the looks on their faces -so naive it's almost cute! It's so great to know that someone with no experience doing doc review will be staffed on the next project over me because I'm about to work enough hours to get my teeth cleaned or god forbid get an eye exam. I am all for unionizing and would gladly help the organizing effort in a second. Where do I sign up? We are being taken advantage of by big firms and it's time to take a stand.
wow this is awesome. I am not an attorney, nor have I ever gone to law school; or plan to. I just finished up a document review job since I moved to a new city and haven't found a real job. As just a college grad you get $14/hour. Not minimum wage but not the lofty $35+ NYC document reviewers make as a minimum. I had no idea this entire job existed until recently and now I realize what's going on. Thanks for the read. Good luck.
I have been out of law school since 2001 and never found a job as a practicing attorney. I worked as a secretary at my kids' school, as a substitute teacher as well and now I am back as a secretary at the same law office I worked at before I went to law school. I am excited to hear about this doc reviewing job and am hoping I will be able to get one. I had to go back to school (MA-English) just to put my law school loans off longer.
I have only done a few doc reviews since graduating in 2002, but after moving back from Hong Kong (ironically, there are way more law jobs in Asia) I have picked up a couple that have been absolute cake, pay the bills while I build up my own business and the people have always been pretty cool. If people are embarrassed by having to explain what they do, just remember, the vast majosity of Americans would kill for $30 an hour. True, they are not dummies like us that racked up 100k in debt, but still.
Ann M. Byrne on Lawyers TechnologyMatt Homann's Five by Five fatuere is intriguing: Ask five lawyers to share five key concepts with other lawyers. Ann M. Byrne of Quid Pro Quo had some ideas relevant to eLawyering:2. Lawyers and the law would embrace technology and
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