'This Is Where Lawyers' Careers Go To Die'

While covering the plight of unemployed lawyers, I spoke with a law grad who resorted to unpleasant and depressing work to make ends meet — contract work consisting entirely of document review.

Document review, as its name suggests, involves looking through “a ton of documents” to find ones that pertain to the legal issues a firm is working on, that law grad told me.

While law firm associates often have to do document review, firms have begun outsourcing more of this drudgery to unemployed lawyers. These contract lawyers do nothing but doc review — often considered the least-pleasant task for young lawyers.

Contract lawyers get paid peanuts compared to corporate law associates who make about $US160,000 a year. This is good for law firms and their corporate clients, which can save money by using cheaper outsourced labour for doc review. However, it’s bad for struggling contract lawyers who may have six figures of debt but only get paid $US25 to $US30 an hour. (A contract lawyer making $US25 an hour would only get $US50,000 a year even if he worked all but two weeks of the year.)

Some lawyers who do contract work say it’s unbelievably depressing.

“This is where lawyers’ careers go to die,” the lawyer I spoke with told me. “You have a lot of older lawyers, you have a lot of foreign lawyers, and then you have lawyers who have never done any legal work at all. They have only done document review. It’s kind of depressing. It’s not stable work. You’re on unemployment when you’re between projects.”

It also appears contract work may just be a way to eke out a living rather than a way to advance one’s legal career. A law grad named Alex Rich wrote a post on Above the Law detailing seven signs he’s been doing contract work too long — “in celebration of the stalled nature of what I, laughingly, call my career.”

Rich has been doing doc review for so long he lives in fear of carpal tunnel syndrome.

“For all the fancy degrees hanging in your parent’s basement,” he writes, “the truth is a contract attorney’s livelihood is based on the rote task of clicking a mouse.”

Of course, in a brutal legal job market $US25 to $US30 an hour is better than zero dollars an hour. It might even be enough to keep young lawyers from having to sleep in their parents’ basement next to those fancy degrees.

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