November 10, 2007 Leave a comment
I didn’t quite comprehend how much D.C. is a lawyer’s town until I got here and started meeting lawyers and aspiring lawyers everywhere. The government agency for which I work is staffed primarily by lawyers, same with the Department of Justice and Congress, and then there are all of the big, private law firms that are recognizable by the first one or two last names in the title.
The Washington City Paper has a good feature about temporary lawyers (“Attorney at Blah”), lawyers who are hired by big firms to perform document review, often during the document-heavy discovery period of a case, and then released once the documents have all been reviewed. These lawyers basically sit behind a computer screen or stacks of documents and judge which documents are relevant to the case (most are not). This task has become more formidable, and thus requiring of more hands and eyes, with the advent of e-mail communication, which requires a lot of sifting through multiple copies of the same e-mail because of that cursed formation, the e-mail chain (speaking from experience).
As the author Arin Greenwood says, most satisfying in this arduous process is when you unearth an e-mail with a “spark of humanity” in it, something that alludes to the writer’s personal life, his dislike of a boss, or his penchant for dirty jokes. Such is the de-humanizing nature of office work that such communications become the exception and not the norm.
While I do not envy temp attorneys and use this article as reaffirmation of why not to go to law school if my heart’s not in it, I do find it interesting that some of the attorneys with whom Greenwood spoke did not seem to mind their job so much. As one says,
I’ve been remarkably happy [...] I’m making more money at this than at any other job I interviewed for and just about any other year in private practice. The work itself is mindless, which has its pluses and minuses. If I screw up, I don’t have to worry about my guy going to jail. In private practice, you never stop thinking about the case. With this, when you walk out of the door, it’s gone.
There is less culpability and less demands on time, in contrast to regular private or even government practice. I can certainly understand the “not having to take your work home with you” appeal, which was a luxury I began to appreciate after being for so long accustomed to school work.
One other thought: I could see it being very beneficial for temp attorneys to unionize, as right now they don’t get benefits and their salaries have been stagnant or decreasing for the last couple of years.