Irate about contract attorney rates: A rant

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick ( Jill oversees the successful recruitment of attorneys, paralegals and contract legal professionals. Jill (and the Blackman team) staffs document reviews using qualified contract attorneys and thus, works with attorneys-in-transition daily. You can follow her at

Today’s post is a rant and I apologize. I try to be positive in these posts but today, I am angry!  I work in a popular “non-traditional” and “transitional” attorney industry: document review staffing. As a staffer and not a reviewer, I ride the rollercoaster of looking for reviews, staffing the review, looking for reviews, managing the teams, ending reviews and looking for more reviews.  It is a fiercely competitive industry. Frankly, I love it but, it’s exhausting and uncertain.

I, along with my team, constantly strive to stay above the bar not only when it comes to working with clients, but also with regard to working with our contractors. Our contractors are essentially our “product.” Without them, we have nothing to sell. It has been our policy to treat our contract attorneys like gold.  I’d say, based on our reputation and the reviews I’ve seen on other blogs about us, we’re succeeding. In addition to Blackman staffers being kind people who generally treat people nicely, we also know that happy and well treated contractors have loyalty to their agencies and therefore perform strongly on document review projects.

My colleagues and I have solid relationships with our attorneys and as a result, we’ve learned a lot about the goings on in our industry. It is possible that I will rant in future posts because I learn many things that disappoint me. It is very tough to be a contract attorney. Coding documents day in and day out is tedious and many contractors saw themselves in different positions when they went to law school. They are tremendously underpaid, often shoved into crowded offices with little personal space and threatened within an inch of their lives if they leave a project early -though if a case settles that they were counting on, they can be let go without warning.

So what is getting my goat today? What is making me so angry that I am discussing it publically?  This time it’s rate. I recently learned the bill rate and the pay rate of one project going on at a law firm and the agency is taking a whopping 110 percent mark-up. When I began in this industry, most agencies paid contract attorneys $35/hr + time-and-a-half for any overtime worked. The industry standard for the mark-up was 65-80 percent and it accounted for profit, taxes and insurance costs etc.  Now, overtime pay is rare and the market pay rate has dropped to a mere $27-$29/hr. We thought that the right thing to do was to drop our margin below the industry standard so that we could still pay a decent wage on our projects. Like I said, we’re firm believers that a well-paid contractor does the best work so if they had to take a hit, we did too. Rate is only one contributing factor to a successful project, but let’s face it, it’s at the top of the list.

Others didn’t take that attitude and stuck with a super high margin and simply significantly lowered the attorney pay. In fact, we’ve heard of document review projects paying as low as $20/hr (they had insane turnover). But in this instance, the agency is billing an hourly rate comparable to what we all used to get in the good ole days and did not pass the benefit through to the contractors. Rather, they took a 110 percent mark-up. It’s unfortunate for both the contractors and the client of whom they took advantage. As temporary document review teams become more prevalent in the legal industry, it is important that agencies adhere to best practices so that we can improve the quality of our industry.  That did not happen this week.


3 responses to “Irate about contract attorney rates: A rant

  1. Aurora Donnelly

    What that agency is doing is counterproductive, bad for ALL attorneys because it devalues not just contract attorney work but the value of the profession in general, and very shortsighted. This downturn will end at some point and people will not forget this behavior. There are a couple of agencies now that have a terrible reputation and no experienced, strongly-performing contract attorneys will work with them. “Buyer beware” behavior has no place in our profession. Kudos to Jill for having the integrity to call this!

  2. Jill,
    I love the way you think! Thank Goodness for people like you! You should be proud to look yourself in the mirror.

    Your fellow blogger,
    Nancy Glazer

  3. Oh wow – thank you Nancy and Aurora! I am the mother of two – gotta set an example for my girls! Besides, I love my job and want to continue to improve this industry.


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