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Contract lawyers who do litigation review work – high markups and low productivity

A disturbing piece in the ABA J., Vol. 94, Dec. 2008 at 32, bitterly describes the plight of a contract attorney, immured in a basement, who spends all day reviewing electronic discovery documents. “The buzz around reviews is that the firm bills out an attorney at $180 an hour and pays the temp agency $60 per; the agency, in turn, pays the attorney $40.” If that is anything like a representative surcharge, law departments with major discovery efforts ought to (a) insist that law firms disclose their markups and (b) retain contract attorneys on their own or through an agency (See my post of post of Feb. 16, 2007: up to 200% add-ons; and March 11, 2007: two responses to my comment on surcharges of contract lawyers.).

It gets worse. “If I review 100 documents per hour (a very fast pace), I get paid the same hourly rate as if I review 30. Moreover, each project consists of a finite number of documents; so the faster I work, the sooner I am out of a job and need to start hustling for the next project.”

Not only do law departments pay multiples of what the contract attorney receives, but the worker has a disincentive to be productive.