Saturday, December 7, 2013

JD Advantage, Legal Temp, and Document Review Jobs

Law Grads in 
Legal Temp Agency Jobs

The ABA has picked up the story on job equilibrium that I started here and expanded this month herehere, and here. The first comment posted to the ABA article reads: "Low-paying, monotonous doc review jobs for everyone…the sooner the better!"

In that story line, I promised to follow up on two concerns expressed by scambloggers about the JD Advantage jobs. I said:
Scambloggers have expressed great concern about the number of graduates finding employment through legal temp agencies and as paid employees of law schools.
The comment to the ABA article shows that this concern continues to exist.

Analyzing the Data. What Data?

So, how many grads, nine months out of law school, held positions as legal temps? I'm guessing most of these grads engaged in document review projects -- either associated with litigation discovery or transactional due diligence review.

NALP first began tracking grads holding "Legal Temp Agency" jobs for the graduating class of 2006.

I continue to use the NALP data, despite Professor Merrit’s comment that it is off by a year when compared to the ABA data. Again, I am looking for trends and averages. I also like knowing both the total number of graduates and, more importantly, the number of graduates responding to the NALP employment survey. The second number changes the denominator when calculating percentages.

NALP provides some collective data on Legal Temp Agency jobs in its report entitled: Jobs in Business and Industry -- Two Decades of Change. I have created a table excerpting some of the data from that report. I also took the number for the "total grads reporting employment" from an earlier table I developed here

# of Grads Reporting Employment
# of Jobs in Business/
% Bar Passage Required
% JD
# in Legal
% of Grads Reporting Employment

The table shows that, since 2006, grads working in Legal Temp Agency jobs never exceeded 2 percent of all graduates reporting employment nine months after graduation. The scambloggers would have us believe that many more graduates "suffer" in these positions. Even in the year before the Great Recession of 2008, 1.6 percent of reporting grads held these positions. During the lousy 2011 job market, that percentage increased by only .01 percent.

This number may say more about the ebb and flow of large scale litigations and deals requiring due diligence than it does about under-employed graduates.

What we don't have is data on a school-by-school basis. A higher proportion of graduates from some law schools may hold more of these positions than grads from other schools, but we just don't know. 

Professor Merritt provides an explanation for why we can't get that data. Law schools and NALP collect it, but do not disclose it. She calls for more transparency of this data, saying: 
This type of omission contributes to ongoing distrust of law schools: We and our national placement organization are still disclosing data selectively. Applicants need to trust us to inform them, not merely to market to them. 
In doing so, she also notes: "According to the ABA’s spreadsheet of 2012 job outcomes, half of all law schools had 25 or fewer graduates in JD Advantage jobs."  That's all JD Advantage jobs, not just the Legal Temp Agency jobs.

My Experience with Document Review 

I practiced law for about 20 years before joining the academy. Early in my career, I worked for Skadden Arps, then the third-largest law firm in the world. 

I spent most of those three years working on document review. I spent nearly six months reviewing documents in Tulsa in a litigated case involving an energy company. We reviewed hundreds of banker's boxes filled with documents relating to the dispute, but also lunch menus filed in folders. We even found a pair of men's underpants in one box.

I also spent several weeks reviewing documents as part of the due diligence in an energy-related acquisition. I staffed other document reviews, but I have forgotten their specifics.

I remember those days very fondly. I worked with young, bright, energetic, and yes, complaining associates and paralegals who always managed to stay playful and humorous. Their generosity of spirit still makes me smile.

As an associate, and then later partner, in a St. Louis law firm, I supervised litigation-related document reviews because I was the only lawyer in our small law firm who knew how to manage such a big project. One review kept me in Los Angeles from Thanksgiving of one year to Valentine's Day of the next year. I spent my free time searching for the best creme brulee in the city, perhaps an unwise past-time given how many hours a day I was sitting on my butt reviewing files.

Yes, these jobs are boring, offer little in the way of substantive legal training, and provide modest professional growth. That was true then, and I imagine that is true now.

But, I never really minded them. I always saw them as a hunt for the smoking gun. And, almost without exception, we found it. 

I am curious, if not nosy, about other people's lives and communications. (That may be why I like mediation so much.) I loved, yes loved, reading through mounds of correspondence and then developing a timeline and list of players that allowed the story of fraud or mismanagement to emerge. When I presented that paper trail to the litigating partner, I loved, yes loved, watching his (almost always his) face light up. I was a hero because I had managed the boredom and stayed on task.

I also enjoyed culling the documents arguably within the attorney-client privilege or work product doctrine. I enjoyed finding ways to ethically keep them out of the hands of the opposing party.

It was a very big chess board, and I loved playing this part of the game. I know. Go, figure.

The chess board has changed significantly.  At worse, I had to read crumbling telexes printed on silvered paper produced in the mid-80s.  Now, document reviewers must find a way to sift through millions of emails and other electronic data.

The chess board has also changed in the staffing model. Corporate clients are no longer willing to pay for law firm associates to do most of this grunt work.  Low-status contract attorneys now do it.

When I started at Skadden in 1985, I made $65,000 (worth $141,086 today). I think the firm billed my time at $200 per hour.  Three years later, I left making $120,000 in salary and bonuses (worth $236,902 today). (Frankly, I'm sorry I computed those present worth numbers because, as a law professor, I don't earn the equivalent of what I made as a 2d-year Skadden associate nearly 30 years ago.)

Based on a report I got from one of our ASL grads, graduates staffing modern day document reviews make $25 per hour.  If anyone has additional information about the pay for these jobs, please share it.  

At $25 per hour, working an eight-hour day for 50 weeks a year (assuming two weeks of vacation), this grad will make $50,000 per year in current dollars (or $20,669 in 1982 dollars when I graduated from law school).  (By comparison, I joined the largest law firm in Oklahoma at a salary of $35,000 in 1982.)  

Many of these document review jobs have begun disappearing as they move offshore or get done by computers that can scan, analyze, and report the data in ways not possible for easily-bored, human brains. 

This shift is a small part of the commoditization of law jobs that Richard Susskind discusses in his book Tomorrow's Lawyers. Commodity work will continue to lose value in the marketplace and the price for it will move towards $0. 

When I read that book this summer, I realized that a recessionary economy was just one of the challenges new grads will face over the life of their careers. But, I will save that discussion for a later posting.

1 comment:

  1. I have also worked as document reviewer started months ago. I have graduated 2 years ago and now working in an agency. How to become a document reviewer? Before that, you are going to face hardship and problems and, of course, had the lawyer's license already.