Tag Archives: Contract Attorneys

A message to those who hire attorneys in transition: caveat emptor!

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

Contract attorney rates are a hot topic in the document review industry. New agencies continue to pop up and everyone is trying to offer the lowest rate possible to get a foot in someone’s door. This has significantly lowered the hourly rate paid to the contractors. Conversely, so many attorneys in transition sustain themselves as contractors and are struggling to keep their heads above water as hourly rates decline. It is disheartening that most agencies have maintained 80-100% margins and only the contract attorneys feel the pain from the downturn in rates. (Please see my August 23rd post, “Irate about contract attorney rates: A rant” for the low down). Of recent late, it was standard to pay contract attorneys $35/hr and most projects paid time-and-a-half for hours after 40. Now, they are lucky to earn $30/hr (we even hear of rates as low as $20/hr) and a higher rate for overtime is rare.

While cheaper billing rates appeal to clients, buyers (aka, “those who hire attorneys in transition”) should beware – you may get what you pay for! Rock bottom bill rates inevitably lead to very low hourly rates for the contractors, which could result in considerable snags during your document review. Consider the following consequences:

  1. A low pay rate can mean that you are hiring an agency’s least experienced contractors or the “last resort” candidates who will agree to work at a lower hourly rate.
  2. A low pay rate can lead to turnover on the project if something more lucrative comes up (and when pay rates are low, there is something more lucrative).
  3. Contractors are less loyal to agencies that underpay them and may be less productive in their work. The last thing you want on a document review project are apathetic and resentful attorneys who have once been paid higher rates to do the same work, especially when these are the people who could identify the “smoking gun.”
  4. Your law firm or organization could be poorly represented as a “cheap” firm in the contractor community and beyond.

So, how do you avoid such consequences? First, ask the agency what their pay rate will be to the contractors for the hourly rate they quote you. If they are not willing to discuss this information with you, it’s a sure sign that the agency margin is too high and there is probably room for negotiation. (TIP:  knowing the bill rate and the pay rate is also the best way to assess competing bids for the document review.  It’s all about mark-up in this industry and if an agency is taking an 80 percent mark-up, you are NOT getting a deal). Second, find out what the agency does to retain contractors in such circumstances that do call for a low pay rate.  Do they offer bonuses? Serve lunch? Do they have a reputation for treating their contractors with respect and kindness? It matters (please see my September 1st post “Contractors speak up!”). If you are ultimately concerned about the bottom line bear in mind that clean up at the end of an unsuccessful project is much more expensive than a few extra dollars an hour on the front end.

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To review or not to review?

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

I am often asked whether working as a contract attorney is a help or a hindrance to a career as a lawyer. My answer is always the same, I really don’t know. Some of my direct hire clients are, in fact, turned off by document review on a resume. Others would rather see some legal work on a resume than months of doing nothing at all. What I DO know is that in this economy, with loan payments mounting, most people don’t have the luxury to say no to working on a document review.

The real problem with document review for those who are not planning to make document review their career, is that attorneys can easily get too comfortable and become lazy about their job search or even shelve it altogether. Let’s face it, document review brings steady (albeit low paying) work. Document review doesn’t keep you up worrying at night after you leave the office.  When you are working on document review, you don’t have to panic before a motion in front of the judge. It is social and many people wind up with life- long friends after they spend months on a project together. So, it’s easy to see why people get comfortable and forget their intended pursuits.

But there ARE jobs out there and not just for those who lateral in to firms. I have seen it with my own eyes – people have left our document reviews to take full-time, salaried positions on many occasions. It can be done. If document review is not what you intend for your career (for some it is – the above mentioned advantages are very enticing!), please don’t drop the ball on your search. Rather, consider these suggestions on how to keep your job search alive:

  • Read the job boards and law firm career pages every day. Something new is bound to pop up that is a fit for your background.
  • Network, network, network! Instead of going home after a long day of coding, attend one of the many networking events and conferences that are put on by various legal organizations and charities in the city. Give yourself a twice per month quota. Some are free and some cost money but eventually, it’ll be money well spent. Don’t leave an event without meeting at least three new people and connecting with a few old acquaintances. You never know how these people will be able to help you out and/or connect you to potential job contacts.
  • Participate in social media. It’s the most efficient way to network because you can meet a lot of people at once. Polish up your LinkedIn profile and start connecting with others.  Create a Twitter account and follow people who have interesting things to say about the legal field and contact them. Stop poo-pooing Facebook and make some “friends.”  The more people who know you are looking for a new position, the better.
  • Stay on people’s radar to be the first considered when their firm or organization is hiring.  Request informational interviews and/or informal coffee meetings with hiring managers, attorneys, friends, friends of friends. Listen to what they have to say about potential needs at their firms and tell them how you might fit in when their need arises.
  • Touch up your cover letter. As someone who reads cover letters daily, I recommend giving it personality and humor. Keep the reader from falling asleep at all costs! Give them insight into you beyond what you have already provided in your resume.

It is perfectly fine to decide to work permanently as a document review attorney. Believe me, it would make my life easy if I didn’t keep losing some of my favorite contract attorneys to permanent positions! But if you want to practice in a traditional setting, keep at it. If you are persistent and talented, you’ll land something.

Who are these people?

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

As someone who regularly goes in front of clients and potential clients to “sell” our document review teams and facilities, I am asked this same question over and over by the “buyers”: who are the attorneys who work as contract attorneys and why do they work in this capacity?

So, who are these people? Which ones should you hire for your document review?  Consider the following types:

  • The New Grad: Law schools are relentlessly dumping thousands of new graduates into the market each year and fewer employers are able to hire them, so they register for temp work and review documents to combat their mounting law school loans. These folks are eager beavers ready to soak up any legal knowledge and do any legal work they can get their hands on. If you hire a new grad for your review, make sure that the review is either fairly simple or that you are prepared to be very available for in depth training and direction throughout the project. You can expect to pay below market for attorneys with this experience level.
  • The Downsizee: These are the attorneys who are casualties of downsizing that is still occurring in big firms and small firms alike. They are typically experienced attorneys from a variety of practice areas. They may or may not be skilled in document review (i.e., they may have negotiated leases until they were downsized). If you hire a downsizee, you’ll likely get a solid attorney with a practical perspective and a strong work ethic. You may, however, lose them when a permanent position arises.
  • The Supplementor: This attorney is looking to supplement their down time with work that pays. This person could be a stay-at-home mom who wants to work on a project here and there to supplement her income or keep her brain moving. This could also be a solo attorney whose practice is not yet large enough to keep them consistently busy and picks up contract projects when things are slow. Supplementors appreciate a flexible “come and go as you please” arrangement (as opposed to a rigid 9-5 schedule) so that they can run off to court or take a child to an appointment.
  • The Career Contractor: These are attorneys that chose the contract route over a traditional firm or corporate position. These folks traded the stress of deadlines, court appearances and billable hours for flexibility and the luxury of mentally leaving their work in the office. They know the “drill” when it comes to ideal projects, top agencies and competitive rates. Beware – they have seen it all and are not afraid to sound off when something isn’t right. They know every discovery tool and often serve as team leads or project managers.

Over the past few years, as the market has drastically shifted towards using economical contract attorneys over using expensive associates to review documents, the question of “who are contract attorneys” has become a recurring question. Knowing the make-up of the contract attorney community and the various types of reviewers is helpful in planning a document review.  Whether you hire a New Grad, a Downsizee, a Supplementor or a Career Contractor, rest assured that the contractors are people too! They are educated, worldly, artistic, funny, multi-lingual, creative, analytic, sarcastic, knowledgeable, cultured, sophisticated, polite, enjoyable, meticulous, reliable, hard working, athletic, well-dressed, clever, brainy, quick, sharp, thought provoking and the list goes on. I always tell my clients that the key to a thriving contract attorney/document review team is to know the type of attorney you want on the project, and articulate your desires to your agency. If you are working with an agency that understands the make-up of the contractor “pool” and how to best utilize each type of contractor, your review will be a success.

It’s all about productivity

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

Attorneys in transition who have been regularly working as contract attorneys have probably seen just about everything when it comes to the space used to house them from project to project. As a staffer, I hear horror stories all the time. One contractor told me that “we were packed in like sardines” and that someone called the fire marshal and described it as not fit for humans.” Another time, I was told that the internet connection was so bad that it crashed and shut them down several times. Another reviewer told me that he had to see a chiropractor for weeks after a project where the agency provided banquet chair seating (as opposed to ergonomic task chairs). Just recently I heard that the reviewers were working in a moldy basement.

Wake up out there – contractors dissatisfied with their work environment will hit the road! If they don’t they will certainly lack incentive to produce. Turnover or lack of effort on any document review is disturbing. Replacements need to be trained and get up to speed and deadlines can’t be met. I wish that the clients and law firm leadership would look past the pure cost per hour paid on a document review project and take in the bigger picture. It’s called productivity guys!

Here are some fairly simple rules to consider when choosing contractor housing options:

 Workspace pitfalls that cost production

1. Rented space.  If you or your agency has to rent space, odds are there will be space issues that are unknown which could later cause problems on the document review. You must consider space that is dedicated to document review day in and day out. Amenities such as access to a kitchen or lounge are also a nice option for better productivity.

2. Furniture not intended for long term use.  Few jobs require someone to sit for a straight 8-12 hours per day with little movement and contract attorneys do just that. The space must have comfortable task chairs and work stations that are the proper height for typing and review.

3. Slow internet speed/dated computer equipment. The advantages of having contract attorneys working at an affordable hourly rate are negated if you incur internet troubles. Your review space must have top of the line equipment, a lightning fast connection and an onsite tech team that is available to troubleshoot 24/7.

4. Lack of personal space.  Contract attorneys must have 3-4 feet of space to spread out.  Sitting any closer will not only be uncomfortable but also will hurt productivity.

5. Remote or off the beaten path locations. Look for space that has easy access to public transportation and free parking.

This is simple stuff really. The space need not be sleek and stylish, just comfortable and functional. Your document review is imperative and no doubt – you are under the gun. Don’t lose people and time by choosing inadequate workspace. The contractors will thank you for it by sticking around and being productive!

Mailroom mantra

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

I’ve spent the last few entries discussing agency behavior and protocol and how contractors can take care of themselves when staffing agencies treat them unfairly. What about proper contract attorney behavior? The pendulum has to swing both ways for this system to work properly. Quality contractors with scrupulous morals, efficient review skills and a strong presentation will undoubtedly lead to improving the perception of this industry and could possibly lead to future, non-temporary opportunities. Many of the contractors who used to work for my firm as contractors are now the very same people working at big firms as staff attorneys or associates and are hiring our contractors for document review. Opportunity exists and reputations precede you so always treat each position as though it is an interview for a permanent position.

With that in mind, I suggest the following:

  • This should be obvious but, be on time to each project – especially to the training. If you are late, it may not only give the agency’s client a bad taste in their mouth, but the agency as well.  When given the choice between you and someone of your equal but who is always punctual, the agency may choose the punctual person for the next review instead of you.
  • Respect neighboring reviewers. This means, mind your personal habits. Shower and skip the heavy perfume. Eat, but don’t rattle the Cheetos bag and make crunching noises.  Sneeze, but cover your mouth. Take personal conversations and phone calls into the hallway. Make sure your music volume is low.
  • Even if your project is low paying, do your best work. This is a tough pill to swallow, I know. However, you can always turn down a project due to rate and I wouldn’t blame you based on things I hear! If you do decide to work for the proposed rate, then give it your all. It’s the honest and ethical thing to do.
  • Be honest with your agency about your schedule prior to accepting any project. When you don’t disclose a vacation or another obligation and the agency’s client has a tight deadline, you put your team in the position to pick up your slack and the agency in an embarrassing situation. That is not good for anyone. If you had disclosed it ahead of time, it’s likely that the agency could have gotten your time off approved in advance and then the agency’s client can plan around it during the review.
  • Do the best you can do each day. If you know that the expectation is for you to review 500 documents per day but you know you can accurately review 750, do the 750 even if it means cutting the project shorter because of it. You’ll look like a superstar and likely get picked up for other projects quickly.

I learned something important from the mailroom at ICM in Hollywood where you could go from pushing a mail cart to being a studio head in a year:  you never know who someone will turn out to be, so treat everyone as though they could one your next boss or client. We are not in Hollywood, but the world of document review and e-discovery is similarly small and since you never know who someone will turn out to be – always put your best foot forward. Remember – it’s these reviewers that could wind up with an opportunity to recommend you for a permanent position and your chances will be slim if you cough all over their keyboard.

Contractors speak up!

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

My work life consists mainly of two things: developing business so we can land document reviews and keeping contractors happy so we can staff the reviews that come in. I personally think that these items go hand in hand. Our clients count on us for accurate and timely review of their documents. And, as I mentioned in last week’s post, without loyal reviewers it is hard, if not impossible, to give this service to our clients. As a result, we make sure to treat our contractors like gold.

In the staffing world, there are a variety of philosophies as to how best to treat a contractor – some inspiring and some a disgrace to this industry. I was recently reading a blog that discussed the idea of contract attorneys forming a union to regulate agency behavior and/or forming the contract attorney division of the ABA. Both seem like interesting ideas. In the mean time, individual contractors can take care of themselves and preserve the integrity of their current profession simply by not keeping quiet.

For those of you not familiar with the industry – contract attorneys are the quintessential “attorneys in transition.”Contractors are hired through agencies by law firms or corporations usually for document review. The work that contract attorneys do is imperative, regularly in the news and constantly evolving in complexity. Those hiring the contractors want to pay the lowest rate possible, but they also want bang for their buck! They may happily secure a low hourly rate for the contractors, but if in return they get inexperienced and/or below average reviewers due to the low rate, their review could go horribly wrong. Thus, clients want to be assured that they are hiring efficient reviewers, honest time trackers and smart people who are able to make complex decisions. Finally, whether they know it or not, they want people who respect the agency for whom they are working. Disgruntled and disloyal reviewers usually mean turbulence and turnover on document reviews. If the hiring law firm blows a deadline as a result, they can’t tell the judge, “But, I got the reviewers for such a low rate!”

My advice? If you are a contract attorney – speak up! Law firms and corporations need to know when you feel underpaid (because in most cases the agency can raise your rate without touching the client rate – see 8/23 post), when you are working in an agency review space that is make-shift and uncomfortable (I’ve recently heard of a space that violated fire codes and another that was moldy), when an agency misrepresents the workload on a project or when you are treated without dignity. I think these same clients want to hear about the agencies with good reputations and WHY, i.e., the ones that treat you well, pay you bonuses or benefits, bring you treats and pay you above market rates. In many instances, agency bids come out even and it is these factors that will be the tipping point if the client is mostly motivated by price. It will help keep the reputable agencies staffing and force the not so reputable agencies to improve their service to contractors (aka the “gold”).

Irate about contract attorney rates: A rant

Jill Rorem, Esq., is senior manager, legal staffing at Blackman Kallick (www.blackmanstaffing.com). 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 twitter.com/roremlegalstaff.

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.