Contract Attorneys

'Treated like a robot,' contract lawyers chafe under fickle facial recognition surveillance

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facial recognition software

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Contract lawyers forced to use facial recognition monitoring while they work at home are frustrated with the intrusive and error-prone surveillance that forces them to log back in when they are perceived to be unfocused.

Most contract lawyer jobs haven’t yet adopted the software, but attorneys who use it report aggravation and a sense of being a cog in the machine, according to the Washington Post. The newspaper spoke to 27 contract lawyers about their experiences with the monitoring.

The software uses webcams to scan the user’s face and reverify it throughout the day. The software is on the alert for unauthorized people who enter the room, for photos snapped of confidential documents and for work interruptions.

“Lawyers said they had been booted out of their work if they shifted slightly in their chairs, looked away for a moment or adjusted their glasses or hair,” the Washington Post reports. “The systems, they said, also chastised them for harmless behaviors: holding a coffee mug mistaken for an unauthorized camera or listening to a podcast or the TV.”

One contract lawyer in Arlington, Virginia, felt like he was “treated like a robot.” Another said he sat like a “gargoyle” through a 10-hour workday for fear that he would be logged out of the system if he shifted position.

Another, Camille Anidi of Long Island, New York, told the Washington Post that the software sometimes failed to recognize her face or identified the Bantu knots in her hair as an unauthorized recording device. Sometimes she had to log back in more than 25 times per day.

Some software can have difficulty recognizing differing skin tones, which is a particular problem for minority lawyers who “fill an outsize portion” of short-term legal jobs in the United States, the Washington Post reports. About 15% of U.S. lawyers are people of color, but about 25% of “nontraditional track/staff attorney” jobs—including contract attorney jobs—are filled by minorities.

The Washington Post described contract attorneys as “a backbone of the legal economy.” They are hired on an as-needed basis, at lower pay than associates, to review documents that could become evidence in a lawsuit.

“An underclass had been created to perform the mundane tasks without the incentive of being mentored and trained for more sophisticated legal work,” one contract lawyer in Texas told the Washington Post.

One legal recruiter told the Washington Post that lawyers who aren’t comfortable with the monitoring can decline the job.

“Some attorneys, however, feel like it’s not a real choice,” the Washington Post reports. “While jobs with the facial recognition requirement are still the exception, many attorneys said they expect that more law firms will grow interested as the technology becomes cheaper and easier to deploy, forcing workers to tolerate the monitoring or lose out on jobs.”

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