The Sensible Knave

"I do not see that we are further along today than where Hume left us. The Humean predicament is the human predicament." - W.V.O. Quine

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Temps of the world unite!

Tom the Temp has been raising awareness of the plight of legal temps. For those of you who may not know, many large corporate law firms use small armies of temps to carry out what is known as "document review", the tedious examination and indexing of millions of reams of documents produced by litigating companies in the run-up to trial. Temps learn something they don't teach you in law school: the winning side in a major case is the one with more photocopiers.

Among the ranks of these small armies are paralegals, law school graduates, and even full-fledged members of the Bar. That so many seemingly qualified attorneys are doing the least desirable work of paralegals is an indication of how tight the legal job market has become, I suppose. Apparently, firms and temp agencies alike reap vast profits from these lawyers, since oblivious corporations are billed for their services are at exhorbitant rates.

I worked as a legal temp for a few brief stints years ago, on summer and winter breaks during grad school. The work was mind-numbingly tedious, but the pay was good, considering my qualifications (or lack thereof), and there was unlimited overtime, and free meals and car rides. Really, there aren't that many well-paying jobs you can grab quickly, work hard at, and then walk away from with no ramifications.

Anyway, it seems that I was very lucky, Tom is very unlucky, or conditions have generally just deteriorated since I last temped. Tom describes some pretty intolerable work conditions. What's more, Tom and his fellow travelers are not out earning extra cash during school breaks. This line of work is the only thing they can find in their field where they can earn enough to support themselves while they repay their burdensome law school debts. But for that debt, they could settle for something that is lower paying and a little less oppressive.

Well, now there's talk of action, mobilization, and so on. I expect to see the Crimson Permanent Assurance Building sailing up 6th Avenue any day now.

While seems to me that Tom is slowly transforming from a sympathetic, frustrated character to an unhinged radical, there's no denying that a lot of (present and future) law school graduates are looking at a problem. It's not necessarily that there aren't enough jobs for undistinguished graduates of undistinguished law schools; it's that there aren't enough well-paying, non-soul-crushing jobs for the debt-ridden.

Here's what I think could be done, aside from a counterproductive workers' revolution: someone should start offering law school loans that don't come due until a long time after graduation. Sure, the interest would have to be greater, but that would be an acceptable tradeoff for many law graduates. They need to be able to accept very low-paying positions. That would allow them to gain the experience they need to eventually land a decent job. Document review, on the other hand, seems to offer nothing that would enhance one's long-term professional prospects, other than a record of steady, insubordination-free employment. For now, it's just a catch-22 for those mired in permanent temping, until they can pay off those loans.


Anonymous Tom the Temp said...

I am becoming more unhinged by the day. These cockroaches are getting to me! How else am I going to pay my $1200 monthly Sallie Mae payment! Yikes!

8:29 PM  

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