Posted by: Captain Easychord | December 7, 2008

Workin’ for a living

One internal point of contention that I’ve had over the past few years has been what to do about my career. For nearly four years now, I’ve been working as a contract attorney doing document review. If you’re not certain what exactly this means, the long and short of it is that I read your email and I do glorified data entry.

Document review is extremely time consuming and tedious work. Typically, a project will consist of a bunch of temps (like me) sitting in a windowless room full of computers, clicking away at a database. Look at an email, a spreadsheet, a presentation… is it responsive to the document request? Is it privileged? Next document. Rinse and repeat. All day long. Every day.

The work isn’t glamorous or interesting. People may go to law school for all sorts of reasons and with many career objectives. Nobody goes to law school with dreams of document review dancing in their heads.  The reward for being a good reviewer isn’t promotion, it’s continued employment… more documents. As it is, document review  also provides very little platform for career development.  Contract attorneys don’t do research, write memos, go to court or meet with clients. They sit. They click. Next document.

This boring, tedious, routine work is what I have been doing for the last four years.  Generally, there’s very little to recommend about my line of work. When I was first starting out as a contract attorney, there was a certain soul-crushing dread that accompanied every day… every hour of the job. But stick around long enough and you start to see a few upsides of the job… even if you only see these silver linings as a means to keep showing up.

First and foremost, you’re relatively well paid… at least in DC or New York, where many of the “career” doc reviewers are. Typically, you don’t get benefits, but the weekly paychecks are still good enough to help pay down the massive debt burden that law school can impose.

Because your work is low-level, it’s pretty easy and there’s very little stress. The hardest thing you might do all day is sitting still for 8-12 hours. Nobody is going to ask you to take work home, and you’ll typically work only as many hours as you want. Don’t like your gig? Take off! Contract attorneys have little to no job security, but not being permanently anchored to one employer also creates a degree of freedom that some folks enjoy.

The City Paper did a nice little expose on the business last year that did a good job of capturing the ups and downs of this seedy underbelly of the legal world, if you’re interested in more details.

As it stands, my last project ended on Friday. One year and three weeks after I started with 24 other temps, I was the only one of that group left. Most projects don’t last this long, although I know that many of my colleagues have spent similar amounts of time on a gig at some point. Tomorrow, I’m rolling over to another project at the same firm. Transitions from one project to the next aren’t always this smooth, but I’m in the right place at the right time. Knowing the people running the new case doesn’t hurt either.

But where does this all lead? I’m not interested in becoming a staff attorney (ie: the person who supervises the contractors) and I’m not looking for any “real” legal jobs. So how long do I keep up with this? And what do I do if not doc review? I have an idea or two, but for now I’m going to keep clicking buttons…



  1. Tell me about your ideas ! Sales will not take a lawyer since they are deal killers. For all other jobs you need some kind of experience.
    I have done a one project and am in my second and I see the writing on the wall. Low stress, no advancement.

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