Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Market Rate to Hire a Contract Attorney is $20 an Hour

A legal recruiting firm notifies me whenever contract attorney positions are available.  Yesterday, I received notice about a temporary contract attorney opening in Kansas City.  More on that in a second.

Work as a contract attorney usually involves sitting in a cubicle staring at a computer screen in order to review page after page of documents to determine which are relevant to a discovery request.  The
work is pure drudgery.  There are no benefits, no expenses paid.  The positions tend to last anywhere from a couple weeks to maybe as long as a couple months.  The work may be done at a law firm, at a company, or even in a warehouse.  The attorney is typically forbidden to talk to the employer during the assignment regarding employment opportunities afterward.

Earlier this year The American Lawyer had a lengthy piece on contract attorneys:
Figures are scarce on the staffing of document reviews at the high end of the profession, but in last year's survey of Am Law 200 leaders, 78 percent said they use contract lawyers. Of about 200 clients surveyed the prior year by the Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy, 63 percent employed temp lawyers, with higher numbers reported in the U.S., the U.K. and finance.
Document discovery remains essential to the high-stakes deals and cases that are the
bread and butter of Am Law 100 firms. Although technology has cut the number of eyes needed per document, the number of documents has multiplied. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan reports using up to 170 contract lawyers at a time, and that's not unusual. Beneath the base of the law firm pyramid a vast substratum has been built, out of sight and out of mind.
The finances of this hidden world aren't healthy. According to the Posse List, the national average rate for a contract lawyer has dropped from $38 per hour in 2005 to $27 today—a 40 percent decrease, accounting for inflation—while overtime pay has in many places gone from the standard to the exception. For a typical temp, that might translate into a $50,000 income, with $125,000 in student debt.
The Great Recession did more than create a lawyer glut. It also inspired legal clients to seek requests for proposals from temp agencies and e-discovery vendors. The result is a race to the bottom, with gigs ranging as low as $12 an hour. A McDonald's manager now does better than an average legal temp in Tennessee, according to Bufithis. A millennial Posse List member named Josephine Reimnitz says that, accounting for the cost of living, she did better as a nanny in Utah than as a $22 per hour contract attorney in Washington, D.C.
The focus of The American Lawyer is millennial attorneys, namely that many of their job opportunities for younger lawyers are limited to these contract positions.  But in reality even older attorneys face a job squeeze if they wish to change jobs.  The knowledge and experience an attorney has accumulated during his or her legal career should be highly valued...and compensated.   But those qualities are not.  Rather, the only thing the new law firm is interested in is whether the attorney, if hired, will bring a substantial book of business with him or her.

There is no purer demonstration of the legal job market than what contract attorneys are paid.  Talking to the recruiter last year, I was told that $23 is the market rate for contract attorneys in Kansas City. That $23 figure, sans benefits, is what employers have found to lure just enough unemployed and underemployed attorneys for a project.  The notice I received yesterday on the Kansas City job was for $20 to $21 an hour.  Although Indianapolis does not appear to have as many contract attorney jobs as Kansas City, I have heard of contract attorneys here paid as little as $15 an hour.

Is it wise to incur as much as $100,000 or more in student loan debt to become a lawyer and get paid $20 an hour?  I don't think so.


Pete Boggs said...

High priced sports camps for youth don't "promise" high dollar pro-careers. Yet, lawn schools appear to be doing just that in a broad campaign of false advertising... Academia or hack-ademia?

LamLawIndy said...

Well, the answer is that law school tuition and/or the number of attys will HAVE to come down until supply equilibrates with demand. Law schools are already struggling with dropping enrollments, so I believe the process has started...

Anonymous said...

It's called Free Market Capitalism.

Pete Boggs said...

What are lawn school staff being paid to turn out $20 / hour employment? Or, are they really manufacturing debt payers & building the loan business?

Anonymous said...

the ABA should control law school enrollment just like
the AMA does for med schools. I don't want to hear about
anti-trust issues with this

Anonymous said...

According to their website, it costs around $50,000 per year these days for an IN-STATE student to attend the IU School of Law in Indianapolis (including housing and transportation expenses). The only way I could attend would be to serve in the military and use the GI Bill to cover the costs. I don't borrow money and wouldn't go into debt especially when there is no guarantee of a good-paying job.

I asked my current boss if he would hire someone who was a licensed or previously-practicing attorney for any non-legal jobs at the company, and he said he wouldn't hire since such an individual would be "overqualified".

What are you supposed to do to earn a living if the disciplinary commission decides to ruin your career or a prosecutor and judge retaliate against you by charging and convicting you of a felony to cause you to lose your license?