Tag Archives: Document Review

Interview with a vampire

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

Attorneys who have spent any time doing document review over the past few years know that it can be poorly received on a resume. If you are lucky enough to get an interview for a legal job outside of the document review world, you could spend half the interview explaining exactly what document review is.  You could also be faced with a myriad of questions about when the last time you did actual legal writing or appeared in court was. And, if that time was over a year ago when you were in law school, you might spend the entire interview feeling a little foolish for having put on your good power suit and taken time off your doc review job to go talk about your glory days from the past. Biting questions like these can make a doc review attorney feel like they need to carry around wooden crosses and garlic spray. So what do you do when, despite your impressive resume, you find yourself in an interview with a vampire?

When interviewing for more traditional legal jobs, attorneys who have been doing document review can face an uphill battle. Discovery is such an important aspect of the litigation process. The work is by no means easy. Typically, each case requires learning a completely new, usually scientific subject matter, cast of characters involved in the case, and area of law. Nonetheless, what happens in e-discovery is largely invisible to attorneys who do not regularly work in this area. If an interviewer asks why you were only at your last job for less than a month, what the size of your caseload is like at your current position, or exclaims, “That sounds awful!” after you explain what document review is (all of which have happened to me during interviews), what can you do to prevent major blood loss from the bite wounds?

My best advice is to take your cue from one of the best, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Keep a close network of friends that you can (usually) trust and who will allow you to vent about all of your near-death encounters with people who devalue the work done by document reviewers. Don’t give up. People do find meaningful legal work after spending years in document review because many firms do understand that it takes a quick-learner who is goal-oriented, persistent and disciplined to last in the document review world. Finally, hone and display your “slaying” skills. Highlight writing, research, client counseling and trial work that you’ve done on a volunteer basis since graduation. Most of all don’t be ashamed of who you are and where you came from.

Remember, it is literally a battlefield out there. If you are used to getting the job whenever you get the interview, things have changed; it’s not necessarily you. If some interviews left you feeling “drained,” I have two more suggestions. Try scheduling your next one during daylight. Also, wear silver.

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Tips for attorneys in transition that are selecting their next document 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.

There are dozens of agencies staffing document reviews in Chicago. Sometimes, multiple agencies offer you a project for the same dates – which one do you choose?  Below are some pointers to help you muddle through:

  1.  RATE:  For those folks who read me regularly, you know I have a soapbox on which I tout the rates gospel (See Irate about contract attorney rates: a rant). We’ve seen rates as low as $18/hr and as high as $35/hr for document review work (higher for foreign language and substantive work). If you are a new attorney looking for your first document review, honestly, take what you can get because the first one is always toughest to land. Once you land a document review, the others are easy to get and you can command higher rates. It is up to you to decide what you can afford.
  2. LOCATION:  If the project location is inconvenient to you, it is not going to be a great gig no matter what the project pays and the commute will cost you. Select a location that is easily accessible to you.
  3. FACILITY: Not all document review facilities are created equally. Decide what you can put up with. Reviewing in an overcrowded, moldy basement is not for everyone.
  4. HOURS: Some projects are capped at 40 hours, some have a more intense schedule that is mandatory. Some pay OT rates and some don’t. There are projects with set hours and projects that offer a flexible schedule. Find out what type of project you are being offered and decide what is right for you.
  5. DURATION:  A great rate and lots of OT for 2 weeks or a mediocre rate for 5 months? That decision is up to you.

Different agencies have different reputations and if all of the above circumstances work for you, it still may not be a fit if you’re working for the wrong agency. Do your homework about how agencies treat their contractors. Ask your colleagues or consult the many websites and blogs that offer reviews of the various staffing agencies. Below are some qualities that attorneys in transition should demand from the agencies that employ them:

  1. Honest and accurate depiction of a project’s duration. Sometimes cases settle or new search terms are negotiated resulting in fewer docs and as a result, the project understandably cuts short. But some agencies simply lie to encourage you to select a project.
  2. Consistent top-of-the-market pay rates.
  3. Some kind of bonus based on hours and/or other benefits.
  4. Comfortable work space.
  5. Friendly and accessible agency reps.

Happy reviewing!

Inspirational (Steve) Jobs

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”- Steve Jobs (2005)

This week, we lost one of the greatest creative business leaders of our time with the death of Steve Jobs.  Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs truly inspire me.  In this economy, most of us aren’t lucky enough to be in jobs that we enjoy. This could not be more true for the young attorneys who have sought document review work on a contract basis just to pay the bills. But are people like me who have spent the better part of the year in temp work settling, against the advice of visionaries like Jobs?

Those who do temporary doc review assignments right out of law school risk future employers turning their noses up at the doc review experience, potentially spending months unemployed between contracts waiting for an opportunity to match availability or eventually finding that document review is so different from the legal career they prepared themselves for in law school that they cannot continue.  So why do so many of us persist in this line of work?

The primary justifications for temporary doc review work are relationships with significant others. Many of us don’t pursue the entry-level legal work available in the collar counties or other states because we have spouses with good jobs here. For us, being close to those people outweighs the opportunity to get litigation experience. Also, many of us are actively pursuing other interests that would not be possible in a traditional legal career. The range of other interests my co-workers have is incredible. Someone is working on getting her CPA license, another is in acting classes, someone is in a band, many have young children and a myriad of others have unique hobbies that would be impossible in the shackles of a law firm of any size.

Nonetheless, Steve Jobs’ point is poignant. If you find yourself bored with your current legal career, whether it be permanent or temporary, try to figure out if you can use this transitional time to find another love. If you can’t it may be time to explore other fields. We are up to the neck in student loan debt; if we will be paying our student loans essentially for the rest of our lives, is there any reason in the world to do something we don’t absolutely love?

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.

How much is my time worth?

Angie Robertson graduated from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 2010. She has experience with public interest law, family law, legal document review and sales.  When she is not reading or writing about law, she enjoys live music, exploring Chicago, watching roller-derby, and spending time with her husband and her dog.

Last week, the document review project I had been working on all summer ended abruptly.  In this industry, that just happens and there is really no one to blame. Such is the nature of temp work.

Those of us who find ourselves doing document review out of economic necessity take jobs based on a rather simple cost/benefit analysis:

  • Are reviewers treated as an important part of the litigation process?
  • Are directions clear, and are questions about the review addressed consistently?
  • Is the review in a convenient location?
  • Can we listen to podcasts or music while we work?
  • Is the office comfortable?
  • Are the hours flexible so we can go to interviews or appointments if we have them?
  • How much do we get paid?

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the last factor trumps all of the rest. Having been offered contracts as low as fifteen to twenty dollars an hour for document review, I’ve asked myself several times, “Isn’t my time worth more?”  What is a recent grad to do during downtime between projects that will maintain their value as a legal professional?

My strategy is threefold, but purely experimental. First, take some time to tailor resumes and cover letters for jobs you really want. In my experience, it is important to dedicate either one day a week or a few hours per day twice a week to this task. I found that spending more time than that made my job search too broad and created unneeded additional stress. I was applying for jobs I did not really want or that I was not a good fit for and I was overwhelmed with waiting to hear back from any of the places I applied.

Next, I try to do something fun that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Who knows when you might get another chance to play video games all day, make homemade ice cream or read library books without interruption?  Someone is going to have to pay me good money pull you away from doing things you really love all day long, as well they should.

Finally, and this is something that I have to admit I have done less than I should, take the time to get coffee or beer with an old law school classmate or fellow document reviewer who is going through underemployment. Not only is it good to know that you are not alone, but it can also be helpful to bounce career ideas off of each other. You are going to meet some people through temping with really incredible backgrounds and experiences to share. You will also meet some weirdoes, but such is life.

As of yesterday, I have another document review contract starting next week, and this one pays more than any of my previous ones. Whether this is due to coincidence, strategy or the fact that I’m getting more experienced, I have no idea. But I do have peanut-butter-cup ice cream in the freezer with my name written all over it.