Sunday, May 20, 2012

Contract Attorneys – The Latest Addition to the Endangered Species List

Last week I read an article on titled “Does Predictive Coding Spell Doom for Entry-Level Associates?”  The article was prompted in part by the attention predictive coding is currently receiving as the de jure eDiscovery topic and the starring role it has played in the increasingly soap opera like Da Silva Moore case.  The article concluded that entry-level associates were still necessary and vital assets, even with the rise of predictive coding. 

I agree with the article’s conclusion, and am happy for the associates, but what about their less well placed colleagues, contract attorneys?   The threat for survival that contract attorneys face comes not just from predictive coding but from law schools that spill new graduates like a broken faucet, as well as from employers that take advantage of the situation by offering unscrupulously low wages knowing that for every position they have, there are several applicants willing to fill it at almost any rate or cost.  So, is there still a place for contract attorneys?  Will predictive coding and the deluge of law school graduates wipe out their positions, or depress their value to the point where the attorneys would make more money working at McDonalds?  I hope the answer is no, and the answer should be no if the legal community takes a moment to realize they need to treat contract attorneys  like the nonfungible assets they can be, rather than as pariahs who are undeserving of earning even $20 an hour. 
Despite their persona non grata reputation, a quality contract attorney is worth their weight in gold, and the legal industry should do everything it can to ensure they do not go the way of the dodo, whether because of technology, wages, or anything else.  Contract attorneys’ hands-on expertise and knowledge of review platforms and software can add great efficiency and effectiveness to a project.  Their in-depth familiarity with the documents and details of a case can be illuminating, and their understanding of the eDiscovery process can be a difference maker.  The truly good contract attorneys are knowledgeable experts that can be leveraged to your advantage and provide valuable input and consultation to your case and how you prepare for it.  More than hired mercenaries whose goal it is to plow through data as quickly as possible, contract attorneys can be your eyes and ears in the data.
At the end of the day, you get what you pay for, and nowhere is that more true than with contract attorneys.  You may be able to fill positions offering wages as low as $15 an hour, but that will not get you much more than a warm body.  With such a low rate of pay, a contract attorney will have every incentive to look everywhere and anywhere for a different job.  They will lack quality, consistency, motivation, and loyalty, resulting in a poor quality review, even if cheap.
Alternatively, as with most positions in life, the more faith and responsibility you show contract attorneys (along with paying them a decent wage for someone with a law degree) the more you obtain from them and the more value they will add to your case.  I urge you to look beyond the mere number efficiencies technology such as predictive coding can provide, to look beyond the hourly rate you are paying, and to focus instead on the intangible values added to your overall case.  That is where you find the true value and worth of your contract attorneys, and where you will find, if utilized properly, the good ones are invaluable and indispensible.  Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting that you should forgo the use technology or that you should be offering your contract attorneys partner level compensation.  I am simply saying that technology should be used to supplement and enhance your contract attorneys’ value and capabilities, not replace them. 
Despite advances in technology, the human element of eDiscovery remains more vital and important than ever.  A key component of this human element is the contract attorney.  Even with the advance of predictive coding and like technologies, skilled contract attorneys should continue to be valuable commodities undeserving of a place on any endangered list.


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