Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wolf Block is dead!!!

Well, one major Philadelphia legal institution for the past 106 years passed away. Wolf block voted to disband the other day. The reasons that have been put forward are: mergers and acquisitions, structured finance or real estate focused practice; the economic recession; the current credit crunch; and oh, the fact that the partners did not want to stand behind their own firm. One report I read indicated that a large part of this was that not very many of the partners wanted to personally ensure the line of credit that they needed to take out for operating expenses, and that they were upset that profits were down so the partners only made $321,000 on average in 2008 (Down from $400,000 in 2007).

Some Links:
Philly Inquirer--Wolf Block Lawyers Face Difficult Job-hunting Climate

Philly Daily News--Wolf Block Lawyers Left Only With Fond Memories

Legal Intelligencer--No Easy Answers in Wolf Block's Demise

Legal Intelligencer--Credit Woes, Failed Merger Bids Take Toll on Wolf Block

Wall Street Journal--Wolf Block to Dissolve Philadelphia Law Firm

Business Journal--Wolf Block law firm to dissolve

The thing is that I believe that many firms large and small do not get the concept that there needs to be at least a vague semblance of a pyramidal structure of leadership. The fact is that most firms, even those mega firms like Dechert are too top heavy. There are too many partners and equity partners and not enough accountability. When you have too many partners, you can not get them to all agree on anything, and in fact you are likely to have many of them making more conservative moves without their names on the door or their own personal money invested. The partners will rarely put themselves out of work, and you can be sure that all of the partners from this dissolution will end up somewhere else. The young attorneys will be scrambling, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them on contract jobs in the future.

As far as why you should be concerned. While I have not heard of Wolf Block hiring any contractors in the last five years (so we are not really losing a contract employer), as I just mentioned, there are that many other lawyers out there looking for work. Will they deign to do contract work? In this economy, probably. Will they be able to find associate or partner positions? It sounds like many are already lining up these positions, but of course that means any contractor looking for an associate position is going to find it that much harder to find one. And with some firms already delaying first year start dates, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that offers are rescinded putting more recent grads in the desperate position of needing to work anywhere. Also, don't forget that many firms suffer from a top heavy management structure, and layoffs at major firms have been touching all levels. A dissolution could happen to any firm in the near future, even Pepper Hamilton, Morgan Lewis, or Dechert. So even those of you who have been contracting at those places for years, are not necessarily safe (and certainly less safe than the associates or partners).

For those of you who would use this to point out that contracting is just as secure as any other job out there, think again. If you are an associate somewhere, even if all you have ever done is Document Review work, you are perceived to have a skill set, as a contractor you are not. As an associate, even in situations like this you are entitled to certain benefits, or portions thereof, as a contractor you are entitled to nothing. As a contractor, you will likely be the first one out on the street, and the last one to be hired by a new firm. There is more job security as a full-time employee, and a recognized skill set that comes along with the position which makes you more mobile when it comes to looking for new employment.

Contract attorneys actually do have a skill set, but you wouldn't know it from the way firms treat applicants for full-time positions that have primarily contract experience, nor from the way that they treat contractors on document reviews for the firms (firms tend to treat contractors as idiots who barely graduated high school, and believe that anyone can do the work, though the last associate that I saw code a document screwed it up and crashed the system). The real question is how to make that skill set known and transferable.

I digress though, what are your thoughts.

As far as those of you asking about additional work, I have no updates other than to say it sounds like several contract firms are trolling for resumes. And I am sure for positions to post people in, but many of them do not have positions ready immediately.

Feel free to comment.

Black Sheep

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So much for a regular posting schedule!

Sorry everyone. Market has been slow, and other interests have gotten in the way of my posting and I have to say that at times the conversation has degenerated at times more than I would like to see. I have many ideas, but not as much time right now. Maybe it is that second job I had to take. As I have always said, the Black Sheep is all of you contractors who are the Black Sheep of the legal industry (whether you believe it or not).

As to current updates on the market, one of the posters in the last string I think did a pretty good job at summing things up. Anonymous at 7:51 AM Feb. 19 said...

Here's what I can come up with based on people I've talked to and this site and others:

Dechert (staffed by Hudson): Vioxx/Vytorin, they just had their four-year anniversary, and it doesn't seem to be shutting down anytime soon. There are rumors of them moving it across the street from 2 Logan to the Bell-Atlantic Tower. Last I heard, they started at $27 an hour (with time and a half for OT) but had a freeze on raises (people who have been there more than 18 months get $35 an hour. Supposedly, they just hired 12 to 15 people and even added a few staff attorneys. I’ve also heard there are ongoing, smaller projects at Cira Center.

Pepper Hamilton (direct hire, or staffed by HIRECounsel, or staffed by Special Counsel): Zyprexa, Avandia, don't know what the Special Counsel thing is. I've heard direct hires are for either Zyprexa or Avandia and pay $38, but the unlucky HIRECounsel folk are hired exclusively for Zyprexa and are paid $30. So why does ANYONE go there through HC? Because not everyone knows about the direct-hire route, which isn't advertised. I doubt they'll be doing any hiring anytime soon with the Zyprexa settlement and the 200 hours a month/ 10 hours a day cap on hours.

Stradley (staffed by JuriStaff & Special Counsel): Avandia. Pays $35/hour, down from the $40/hour it used to be with Oxford Legal and Special Counsel. Limited hours, are they currently hiring? Who knows how much longer it has to go? After all, with Zyprexa settling maybe Pepper Hamilton will take back the Avandia work.

McCarter English (staffed by Hudson): Seroquel. I don't know what that pays but that project only has a small skeleton crew working on it, and it's unlikely there will be any new hires for the duration of the project.

Morgan Lewis (Providus): Some non-pharmaceutical thing. Pays a nice $35+OT, but I don't know if they'll be doing anymore hiring for the duration of the project. Work seems to be slow to the point of being almost nonexistent at Morgan’s regular review space in the basement adjacent to Suburban Station.

Montgomery McCracken (HIRECounsel). Pharmaceutical case. Pays $30/hour straight time. Smaller project. Just hired people and probably won’t be adding.

Then there's always work at the plaintiff's firm Barroway in Radnor (staffed by HIRECounsel) for a yucky $28/hour, where they reportedly have cameras on the contract attorneys. If you live in the suburbs you won't have to pay Philly wage tax, but so what, it's $28/hour in oppressive working conditions.

JuriStaff recently was looking for people for a short-term (one to two month project), but it was a plaintiffs firm, the hours were extremely limited, you were required to take an hour unpaid break, and there even was a set start time for your workday.

JuriStaff and Special Counsel also have a pharmaceutical review at Reed Smith. It pays $35 an hour. You can pretty much work as much as you want, but it pays straight time. However, this project probably will be wrapping up soon.

There's also that $35/hour HIRECounsel gig in Blue Bell as someone else mentioned. Also for whatever it's worth, HIRECounsel and Special Counsel had a flurry of ads in January. I don't know what else they have besides the aforementioned jobs. Kelly Legal also posted a couple of ads for Center City gigs. I know that they do some work for Dechert.

There also are ongoing jobs down in Wilmington, but they tend to pay $30 or so, and who really wants to work in Wilmington?

Does anyone know if there any jobs at Ballard Spahr, Blank Rome or other firms going on right now? If so, who staffs them, what do they pay, and how long are they slated to last? This blog really could be a resource to take power away from the parasites such as Denise Asnes and Julie Dailey. We should be sharing information. Despite what the firms and agencies might tell you, you can share information about what firm you are working at, what you are being paid and what the work conditions are like.

I have not heard about any recent jobs at Blank Rome, Ballard Spahr, Duane Morris or Cozen O'Connor. In fact the last time I heard of Cozen hiring contractors was about 5 years ago. I have heard many reasons that this firm does not hire contractors anymore despite their litigation heavy clientele, but I do not actually know if any is true.

As far as the debate about Wealth vs. Hard Work, it is pointless for many of you to debate, and for those that are borderline in either or both categories, it will just depress you. Here is the thing in my opinion. There are many young attorneys who have gotten jobs on merit, in fact probably more than on wealth and connections alone. Partnership is another question. And it is an interesting one at this time in the practice of law as all size firms are getting very top heavy with partners (both equity and non-equity). And some of those partners are "Working Partners" while others are "Rain-making Partners." And if you are reading this Blog, the likelihood is that you will never be either unless you start your own firm or break off of a large firm with only a few partners. As far as pre-requisites for getting a big law job, all of the following things help:

Wealth and Fame
Connections to the "Right" people (including relations to partners or clients)
Hard work resulting in Top 10% of law school class
Top Schools for both Undergrad and Law School
Journal experience
Clerking for a High-Level Judge
Distinguishing Litigation Ability
Unique Talents
A Backstabbing Mentality
Willingness to Pledge your Allegiance to the Firm above anything else

Do you need all of these things? Certainly not, but if you have all of them you are likely shoe in for partner. Everyone has different paths to achieve success at large firms or small firms. I have met quite a few people who have been given jobs based on wealth alone (as I hear it about half of the Vioxx staff attorneys got their jobs through familial connections and probably will not be Associates any time soon) and many who have achieved due to hard work and good grades. The shame of this debate is that there are so many in document review who just want a shot at showing the large firms what they can do, while there are some in large firms that have got there with only apparent familial connections and are taking up space despite the fact that they do not really want to be there. Bottom line is you cannot change your past, only your future so find a way to achieve what you want. This may require changing your dream. My new one may be to become a manager at Best Buy as one commenter has suggested many times (at least I would get an employee discount on all of those electronics, of course I may be frisked upon leaving work, and will certainly have to frisk lower level employees if I recall the lawsuit that was going on there last year).

As far as the discussion about Document Review being filled with 3rd and 4th Tier graduates, this is certainly true, but it is also true that the 2nd Tier is well represented as well. In fact in this area there are many Temple and quite a few Villanova Grads that are contracting. Rutgers numbers have been growing up in NYC as well. These are all second tier schools, and if the numbers can be relied on they are in the top half of the second tier. And by the way these are not just bottom of the class grads either. I know one cum laude grad with journal experience from a second tier school who has been contracting for a couple of years.

AS far as news like the following, it is bad for us as contractors because many of these people will take desired jobs from us because they will be viewed as better qualified. This fact can be seen at Stradley Ronon where as a recent poster pointed out Staff Attorneys were demoted to contractors while released associates were rehired as Staff Attorneys:
Black Friday For Law Firm Staff and Attorneys....What About in-House?

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Dechert Lets Go 10 Staff Attorneys

Incidentally being a Staff Attorney might not be much better (especially at a large firm) as Tom the Temp and anonymous poster pointed out in the following post

Thursday, February 26, 2009--What Is A Staff Attorney?
"Yolanda Young will be happy to explain in detail. From her recent court pleading, I gather it is somewhat like a legal sharecropper. You have to 'work off the clock,' and probably get paid in script, only negotiable at the 'company store.' Also, the desks would be set up in 'converted filerooms,' which Yolanda speculates do not meet OSHA standards. Anyone that complains gets the tar and feathered, and then their bonus is pressed down to a measly $5,000."

-ABA Journal Commenter on...
High-Profile Ex-Staff Lawyer Sues Covington & Burling, Alleges Discrimination

Speaking of Tom the Temp. Congratulations are in order, he made the Blog 100 as one of the Best Career Blogs!

Some additional news on a variety of Legal Blog topics check out this site:

Want to add ot our knowledge about what contract Attorneys are and do, feel free to add to Wikipedia's definitions here:

Want to know how to become a contractor, check out E-how

Oh, by the way, some of you may have noticed that unlike last year, this year I did not do cheers and jeers for wishing our agencies and staff attorneys a Happy Valentines Day. That was not by design, if you want to send them in, feel free.

Have fun. And I welcome your comments.

The Black Sheep

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hey I am Back!!!

Is anyone still out there?? I am truly sorry to my loyal readers who were hoping for some help recently. But I want to say right here and now, I do not have all of the answers. I am just as stuck as the rest of you. I began this website in the hopes of trying to change things that I didn’t like about contracting, but there was another reason too. I wanted to learn if there were any answers that all of us could come up with together to solve some of the problems with contracting. While I try to keep people informed of opportunities that I hear about, I am not the best source for that. (I would try the Posse List, they seem pretty good. Or just call/e-mail any other contractors that you know, they likely will have heard something.)

As far as jobs out there right now, I would suggest trying to call securities litigation firms directly (both plaintiff and defense) and see if there is any work. With the markets falling, this type of work might see an uptick right now. There are 2 benefits of a direct call, first you might get on board ahead of the contract firms and thus be in a better position to turn the job into a longer term proposition, and second, you might get paid more as an independent contractor then you would through an agency.

Anyway, sorry again, that I haven’t posted anything in a while (wow, almost 4 months). There were numerous reasons for that. First, as I think I said, I was enjoying the sun and warm weather before it was gone. Second, I started getting hooked on blogging generally, and started to do some political stuff, and I wanted to keep my personal voting choices and endorsements off of this site. Third, as many of you were, I was impacted by the market. I have been scrambling around trying to put an income together with shorter jobs.

It is time for me, and I imagine many of you, to take a serious look at this employment and think about doing something else. This is not a career, it is a holding place. And that is all it looks like on the resume too. If you want further education, now might be the time after all there is not much employment out there.

Back to the lack of reliability of the market, it sucks and has gotten worse because of the economy, and the number of attorneys out there who have been doing this in recent years. Since my last post I have heard about mass layoffs in September at both McCarter English and at Stradley Ronon. These layoffs effectively eliminated hundreds more positions for contractors which means there are many more people on the street looking for contract work. Some of those people have landed positions, some of those people have taken jobs out of town (DC or NYC--both markets which if you want to do contract work you should monitor). Many, however, are on unemployment. At the same time, all of those recent grads just got their bar results back, and a large number of them now meet the minimum qualifications for about 90% of contract work in the area. The bad news is that there are no truly massive projects to stick all of the contract lawyers on. I would wager that the last quarter is not looking so hot to Hudson right now. They essentially were funded by 2 major projects in the last 3 years. Now they are back on par with the rest of the agencies fighting to place people.

A little side note, apparently Stradley Ronon has decided to hire a few more contractors, the word is that they are not using Oxford anymore, and they are now using Juristaff who is paying $35/hour instead of the $40/hour that Special Counsel is still offering for the same position. Talk about a pay discrepancy. One reason that I heard they did this is because of economy. They were trying to save money and got a better deal with Juristaff. Another reason I heard is because sometime in August there was a major problem on the project and the coders were not consistent with the way they were coding. That is either bad contractors or a problem with poor instruction/supervision. In other words, the powers that be at Stradley may screwed up in the way they had people coding, or put inadequate checks in place and blamed it on the coders.

I will try to go back to once every couple of weeks, but we shall see. Does anybody have any stories or advice out there that they would like to share?? E-mail me at:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hey all, how is the Sun?

I know that I haven't written in over a month. Sorry about that. That is for multiple reasons, but let me assure you, I am still working, and still reviewing documents. I am also taking my own time and partying in the summer sun. As an aside, we had some good conversation on the last post, I am not sure if this is because of the length between posts, the fact that document review is slow right now (including over at the AZ review where they have had a lot of time to just sit around), or what, but it encourages me to keep writing, so keep it up.

Let take this opportunity to welcome the recent graduates who are hunting for jobs. Many of them will no doubt be joining you soon. For those recent grads who where fortuitous enough to get an associate position at a Big Law firm, have fun. The likelihood is that for the next few months you will be reviewing documents, and/or overseeing contractors reviewing documents. Have fun. For those of you who did not get the big law job, the likelihood is good that you will be either overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated OR you will join the rest of us in contract land dreaming of something more.

Here is the trap, if you do not get out in your first year, and went straight through college and law school, you are trapped. Don't get trapped. Take whatever time you need and find a permanent position.

For those dreaming of a career in Law that will make them a lot of money, think again. There are too many lawyers out there, and the salary level for all but the top graduates has dropped. Take a look at this graph from NALP.

Source:Jobs & JD's, Class of 2007

Note: The graph is based on 23,337 salaries. A few salaries above $200,000 are excluded for clarity.

Here are two links to learn more about the NALP surveys.

Incidentally, Tom the Temp recently reviewed some of these results, his blog on this is located at:

If I am not mistaken, this reminds me of grafts that I learned about in high school when reading about Marxist theory. If I recall the income gap grows and grows until a point where the proletariat becomes large enough, and unhappy enough, and finally decides to violently overthrow the bourgeoisie. The unfortunate part of all of this is, as attorneys, we are looked at by society as the bourgeoisie.

I will try to write more soon. And for those who are not currently employed, I have heard that there are 2 or 3 potential projects in the works for the Philadelphia Area. Feel free to share with others what agencies are or might be hiring.

More Later,
The Black Sheep

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hudson/McCarter project continues Cutbacks

As I understand it, last Wednesday the McCarter project made further cutbacks to its hours, limiting the coders from the previous 50 to 40. This came in an announcement that made it impossible to make even 40 hours for the week because the site would close early on Thursday, and would not be open Friday. This comes as little surprise to many contractors as apparently there have been many periods when the site has been sitting idle because documents were not coming in fast enough. The only surprise here is why the client, McCarter or Hudson did not make the decision to limit hours, or close on Fridays sooner. There were apparently very similar lulls in productivity last year throughout the late summer and early fall. Why didn't they have more limited hours then?

I would submit that now something has changed. They are getting closer to the end of current discovery orders and now are on the verge of closing down or laying off many more people at the site.

Coincidentally, on Wednesday afternoon 30-40 contractors on the McCarter project were called upstairs as a group to Hudson's offices to be told that their services were no longer needed. They could have until the end of the week to clean off their workspaces (which was only one more day).

I believe this is a vast improvement over the way layoffs on the same project were handled this past April. In that layoff, there was a lot of assurances from people that should have known better that there was nothing to worry about. Even some of the more experienced Contractors were not prepared to be laid off that weekend. This time there were no assurances.

In April, Contractors were merely told to check their e-mail over the weekend. This was not out of the ordinary as the Team Leads frequently would use E-mail to tell the rest of the Contractors when and if there would be weekend hours. This caused many to assume it was business as usual. Instead, hundreds of people in PA and NJ were told by E-mail that they were let go. This was ridiculous. Here, Julie Dailey and Lauren Gibson actually delivered the news face to face (even if in a large group).

In April, Contractors were not even allowed into the premises to get their own stuff, rather, the team leads merely packed it into a box which they then had to get from the front desk. This time, they were allowed back into the premises and allowed to earn a couple of more hours pay, and could pack up their own stuff.

Incidentally, I have always wondered about this practice of not letting a contract attorney back into the offices after they have been let go. Why? Do they think we are going to commit acts of vandalism? Do they think we are going to steal the oh so valuable documents we have been working on and give them to opposing counsel? Do they think we are going to steal a client? that we would steal office supplies or computers? What is the point? The practice is inane and perpetuates the myth of the unstable or untruthful attorney. We are attorneys, we had to pass some sort of character screening to be licensed. And let's face it, there are numerous people that would be observing our actions. None of these ill effects is likely to occur.

So here are some questions for you. Was the way this layoff handled better then the one in April? I think so. Were Julie and Lauren influenced by the way the contract community (via these blogs) reacted to the April Layoff? Or is this the way that they would act if they were not pressured to lay off so many workers? Did the McCarter or the Client influence the way either of these layoffs were handled? Which would you prefer in person and 1 day, or by e-mail over the weekend?

We welcome your thoughts.

For those who were laid off, I do not have any real current leads for you. Things are a little slow right now. Make sure you apply for unemployment, you can do it online now. Good luck to you, and if I hear of anything I will try to let you know.

To the other contractors out there, I am sure these guys might appreciate a little help. And to those former contractors, what are you doing now, and how did you get there. I am sure that some of those laid off are looking to get out of contracting and into something else, maybe even out of the Law.

Anyway, that's it for today. Keep in touch.

The Black Sheep