Uncertainty and Stigma Plague Growing Legions of Contract Lawyers

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The work is unsteady and the pay can be low, but contract lawyering is on the upswing.

Dozens of large law firms are hiring staffing agencies to supply contract lawyers, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. They include Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; and Davis Polk & Wardwell.

Staffing agency De Novo Legal, used by some of the BigLaw firms, has seen a 40 percent increase in work so far this year, the story says. The Posse List, an online clearinghouse for temporary lawyers, has seen a 66 percent increase in document review job postings. It has more than 14,000 registered users seeking temporary work.

A typical contract lawyer may be able to make $40,000 to $50,000 a year, but the pay can be as low as $15 an hour.

Other negatives listed by the newspaper: little chance for advancement, low prestige, a lack of steady work, stigma and a work atmosphere where breaks are limited and speed is monitored.

The jobs are raising some legal issues, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports in a separate story. A suit filed last year against Labaton Sucharow claims the law firm failed to pay overtime in violations of labor laws. A malpractice suit filed June 2 against McDermott Will & Emery claims the firm marked up the costs of its temporary lawyers and failed to thoroughly review their work.

A Labaton spokeswoman tells the Wall Street Journal that the firm complied with overtime laws. McDermott general counsel Alan Rutkoff tells the newspaper that the firm did nothing improper and no harm was sustained.

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