If at First You Don't Succeed, Temp, Temp Again

by | March 10, 2009

If you find the hours and grind of a full-time legal job daunting, consider temping. The legal industry has increasingly turned to temporary staffing as a means to keep a lid on costs. Industry analysts estimate that legal temporary staffing, whether for lawyers, paralegals, or clerks, represents a $300 to $500 million market, with growth rates of over 25 percent annually.

Happily, the increase in temp numbers has been accompanied by an increase in prestige for temporary lawyers. Jeff Silber, an analyst at institutional research group Gerard, Klauer, Mattison, & Co., recently told The National Law Journal: "Temp lawyers used to have a stigma, but the legal staffing business is really starting to move upscale." For job seekers, the increasing availability and prestige of legal temping jobs means a better lifestyle, higher compensation, and the chance to crack some of the country's most exclusive firms.

The legal temp field breaks down into two categories: traditional temps and "wholesale lawyers." The latter term was coined by David A. Robinson, author of the ABA's "Practicing Law Without Clients." Robinson describes a wholesale lawyer as a freelancer who finds her or his own assignments, producing legal product for the "retail lawyers" working for the client. "Most of what wholesale lawyers do is ghostwriting," Robinson told the NLJ, citing the example of a West Virginia lawyer who worked writing administrative law judge opinions for 15 hours a week at $75 dollars an hour.

By contrast, traditional temp lawyers, like their counterparts in other industries, go through the intermediary of the temp agency. These organizations have flourished in the 1990s, as law firms remain wary of overhiring. Legal staffing agencies include New York's Strategic Legal Services (www.strategiclegal.com), Washington DC's Pat Taylor and Associates (www.pattaylor.com); and LawCorps (www.lawcorps.com). Pat Taylor and Associates boasts a sparkling client list featuring top notch firms and organizations such as Latham & Watkins, Patton Boggs, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Arnold & Porter; Skadden Arps; Mayer Brown, National Geographic Television, and Paul Hastings.

Temping arrangements offer several advantages over traditional lawyering. For wholesale lawyers, many say the most prominent advantage of working part-time is simply working part-time. Wholesale lawyers can make their own hours and telecommute, a boon to those who wish to spend more time with families or pursue interests other than the law.

For lawyers working through an agency, there are two important advantages. First, these lawyers can avoid being pigeonholed into a particular career path or substantive area of the law, increasingly the fate of full-time associates at many firms. Granted, temporary lawyers may often get assignments in less exciting jobs, notably document management or discovery chores. However, as one temp attorney told the NLJ, "discovery is on par with the rest of law - it's no more or less exciting."

Second, temp jobs aren't always temporary. Temp staffing specialists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of temps get permanent offers. For those spurned during campus recruiting, the temp job can provide a handy back door.

Of course, temping isn't all hearts and flowers. Pay can stoop as low as $14 dollars an hour (far, far below the compensation of most full-time lawyers). Furthermore, law firms often hire temp attorneys to cover themselves in case business goes south. Should things slow down, the temp gets the axe before anyone else. Many temp attorneys, however, seem willing to live with these risks to enjoy the independence and other benefits that temping affords.

Filed Under: Job Search


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