Are You a “Contract Lawyer”?

Julie Kay has a nice piece today on the growing use by firms and clients of  “contract attorneys.”

How’s this for an exciting job description:

Contract or temporary attorneys are hired by firms large and small for jobs as short as a day or as long as six months. Their pay is significantly lower than full-time attorneys — typically $20 to $35 an hour in South Florida — and they receive no benefits.

Their work is usually limited to document review — reading through hundreds, if not thousands, of e-mails or papers in discovery and litigation preparation.

 I can understand having to do this kind of grunt work as a young BigFirmer, cutting your teeth until you finally get to actually go to court or take a real live deposition. But full time?  As your entire job?  Oy. There’s more:

Some firms don’t like to advertise the fact that they use contract attorneys, but Gregory Young, partner-in-charge of Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge’s West Palm Beach office, said the firm has used contract attorneys for several large intellectual property cases. “They’re not engaged at strategic levels. It’s more at levels that involve heavy documentation with some amount of specialization,” he said. “Law firms have really reviewed and taken steps to control expenses, and that includes the number of attorneys that are employed,” Young added. “Rather than hire a lateral to take on incremental business activity, we might bring on a contract person.”

Proskauer Rose also has turned to contract attorneys to reduce costs. The firm has used two or three over the last year in its Boca Raton office for document review and general litigation, said David Pratt, who heads the office.

It’s interesting that 23 percent of managing partners surveyed by the DBR responded that they have hired contract lawyers. But I wonder if Julie asked if any of these firms “upcharged” their clients for the work — you know, paid $20 an hour for doc review, but charged the client $75 for the same billable hour.

Not that any respectable law firm would ever do anything like that, right?