Thursday, November 29, 2007

Work Environments

As I have said, I have been on a few different contract jobs in my time. At all of them to date I have had “environmental” issues. It has led me to a couple of conclusions. First, that the law firms that find us so necessary, do not care about contractors, and have little or no respect for them. This is true even under the best circumstances. Second, there are apparently a lot of people out there working as contractors who have little regard for their fellow contractors or their work environments. Maybe this stems from the fact that they are given little respect, or maybe this is why they are not working at the big firms. In any case, the conditions tend to be bad. Here are a few jobs from my past, not all were here in Philadelphia, but I have heard similar conditions exist here too. I have heard of better and worse.

One job that I worked at the office space was turned into a warehouse, one large room. Now I may be dating myself here but there were shelves upon shelves of boxed documents (or copies of them). The entry to the review room was packed with boxes of documents. There were so many boxes of documents that the hallway probably violated the fire code, but I never checked on this. A space among the shelves was cleared out and in that space was a conference table where several people sat around coding documents on paper. Table talk was rampant and actually quite off color. It was difficult to ignore and get away from it, or in the alternative change it to something more appropriate. People would put their shoes on the table, and other people’s chairs without a care in the world. (Those same feet had trod the ground of a major city and picked up all the germs and filth of the city as well as the restroom.) All of the furniture was well used if not overused. Many of the chairs had tears in them. All of it appeared to have been purchased at the local Salvation Army 20 years ago. But to be fair it was office furniture. The cafeteria was another table similarly situated next to a dorm room style fridge, a microwave, and a coffeemaker. There was a soda machine (with overpriced soda). There was a restroom in the center of the room, and it was unisex, but most of the women who were on the job would not touch it with a ten foot poll. The problem was that we had a few people who never learned how to aim well, and possibly the same few that never learned to flush.

Another position that I held was a large document review. Everyone had a computer with a 2x2 workstation with cube walls between the computers. This was in theory a totally electronic review. It was more like the traditional images of a sweatshop that I recall with 200+ people crammed onto one floor of a building. The lunch room could hold no more than 30 at a time, the fridge was disgusting and way overfilled, and the microwave appeared never cleaned. The sink had food residue from various people’s dishes (at least no dishes were left there). It did have a coffee maker with terrible coffee, a couple of soda machines (always empty), and napkins. Chairs had become disgusting from use. There was only one men’s room and one ladies’ room for all 200 attorneys, and the men’s room was very disgusting. With this many people to one bathroom it may have even violated OSHA regulations, but I never checked on this. Contrary to the old style where talking was mandatory, this place was a ghost town as talking was frowned upon, but apparently laughing at Howard Stern so loud that the next floor could hear you was not. Anyway, I could tell you more, but I digress.

What are your stories? What was the worst review that you worked? What was the best? What are your current working conditions? Feel free to share what job you are on, because conditions change so quickly. (But be discreet for your own sakes).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to deal with the Holidays and the family…

This Article might be a little late for some of you who were hoping for something to help you through Thanksgiving, but hopefully this will help for Christmas.

I have had many conversations with my family about contracting. How much it is like a sweatshop. I have told them how even my first contract job has characterized me for my legal career. I have explained to them that my chances of catching on as an associate at one of the firms that has hired me as a contractor is virtually none. I have told them that this is not just putting in my dues. I tell them that I am still looking for something more permanent, or something that has more career potential. I have complained about the horrible sweatshop like conditions. I have complained about the pay and my empty pockets. I have told them about the benefits that I either do not have, or that are inadequate. And none of this has come of any use except to leave me feeling more annoyed with my situation.

What I recommend is to simply not discuss it with those people who do not or would not get it. Look at the bright side; at least you are not making minimum wage hocking books at Barnes and Noble.

As far as holiday parties, I have been to a few, I have tried the not talking about my career thing. I have tried the “it is all confidential thing”. I have tried to tell people what things are really like. I have tried several other approaches. Here is the best way to deal with things that I have come up with…

With regards to going to holiday parties, if they are with non-attorneys be as vague as possible, and talk up the attorney angle as much as possible. Do not lie, you will be caught. Tell people about the area of law that you are working in even without speaking of the specifics of your case. Make yourself sound important. It will be good practice for networking. In fact if you are so turned off by the legal field and your part in it, then you should probably see if you can network your way into another field.

With regards to holiday parties that have lawyers at them or lawyer specific holiday parties, the same thing applies, be vague and make yourself sound as important as possible, but most likely this will not impress anyone. Change topics as soon as possible. Preferably ask them about what they do. Keep the other people talking and you will not have to. Ask questions. Dig. Pretend like you are interviewing a client. And most importantly try to get job leads and find new life in your legal career.

Contracting pretty much sucks for a variety of reasons and the best time to find something permanent is the holidays when people feel charitable.

One thing that might work to make at least your family understand is having them read articles like this one:

It may open their eyes to what you are going through. Fair warning though, in trying to be balanced in his article, I think that he let a little too much hope slip through, so the relatives might still not get it.

Any suggestions from the other contractors out there? Any questions from those of you who are new to the field?

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Black Sheep Opens as a Major Review Ends

Today I heard some bad news for Philadelphia Contract Attorneys. Those of you out there who are looking for work, it just got a little harder. A major document review (Dechert) is ending which will flood the market with document review attorneys. This review has laid off some amount of its attorneys, how many is unclear at this point. It could be anywhere from 40-100 with more layoffs expected in the coming weeks. Why you may ask, the same old reason: settlement=cutbacks.

But look at the bright side, the Black Sheep has opened its blog.

As far as what this blog is and what it is intended for that will be some what reader driven; however, here is what I hope for:

I think that the world of legal contracting needs to change. Now more then ever. I see this blog as a way to get a discussion going of what changes need to be made, and a way to allow individuals to improve their individual circumstances as contractors.

  1. I want to give people a place to vent their frustrations in a constructive manner.
  2. I want to try to help people build something out of their contract experiences, and ultimately figure out what they want to do.
  3. I want to try to improve the contracting industry so that I and other people like me are not so unhappy with their positions or their future possibilities.
  4. I want to try and track various data that will allow people to make informed decisions about moves in and out of various contract positions.
  5. I want to make the recruiters more accountable to the talent pool from which they are drawing.
  6. I want to make contracting a viable alternate career path by showing the firms that good things can come out of contractors.

I am going to put in place certain rules. I would like the site to be self policing, but as a blog there are limits to that. I will attempt to police the blog myself to the extent that I am allowed. I want to make this a fair discussion of temporary and contract employment.

I do not want this blog to sound like a bunch of malcontented 5th graders, I want constructive comments. If you just want to insult people find another blog or start your own. Some other blogs such as are much harder on the industry of temporary and contract work then I am. Please consider how you sound before posting as insults and truly negative comments diminish all of us and the message that we are trying to get out.

Please do not make me delete comments, or decide to delete the Blog.

Also something that I have noticed on the above site is that posters wish to only post anonymously. While I believe that any and all of you should maintain your anonymity, I would like you to at least create an alias for a posting so that over time your comments and advice can be given the weight that they deserve. However, please keep in mind that you should be careful exactly what you say as anything that might identify you as an individual could also subject you to being blacklisted by contract firms.

As to the inevitable posts by Contract Firms, Law Firms, and Major Clients please be open to hearing what they have to say. In order for things to improve at your job site and in the industry, they need to understand the problems and issues.

I will soon post and describe these rules and other rules in the sidebar so that all can read when they view the site.


The Black Sheep