Friday, July 29, 2011

Oh, get a room

So the associate comes in this morning, and promptly asks if anyone has an iphone (Iphone? I-phone? i-phone? iphone? I-Phone? IPhone? i-Phone? fuck if I know) charger. One of the contract attorneys promptly volunteers hers. You know what I had to say, you know why I had to say it, and you know what I said as soon as the associate's back was turned:


Thursday, July 28, 2011

The past is gone - Dream on . . .

We've been working in a software program that the firm apparently only bought a limited number of licenses for. Yesterday, we pretty much finished what we had to do using that software, and the associate let us know that the firm was going to used the licenses that allowed us to use the software to allow other people on different aspects of the same project to use that software instead of us. This is not the kind of thing we much give a fuck about, but the associate might not have grasped that. She said:

"So, you won't be able to go back and look at what you've done in [the program at issue]."

Wow, not able to return to the good old days of That Funky Software. No more sneaking women up to the office late at night and telling them, "Hey, baby, this is the software I've been using. Face it -- it makes you horny." No more looking back at work already done and thinking, good times, good times. Not sure if I have the motivation to keep on living.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Word of the day

Learned a word the other day on this project that does not sound at all like what it means: contango. It's a futures market term, for those of you who care, but it sounds dirty, like, "Hey baby, how about you and me go somewhere and contango." Or you're talking to a buddy about your date last night, and say, "Next thing I know, clothes are flying and we are like totally contango." I like it. No relation to reality in this case, but so what.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Whose idea was this, anyway?

Got an email with some questions about contract attorneys, figured it was worth sharing the relevant portion and then addressing to the extent possible. The person wrote:
So who becomes a contract attorney and why?  What's the upside of the job? Downside?  If like most temp jobs it is really meant to be temporary, what do contract attorney's want to do instead? What was it like before the economy went to hell?  My guess is there aren't funny answers to these questions so might not be blog material.  Feel free to ignore. 
 Wow. Where to begin? First of all, being a contract attorney is NO ONE'S first choice. Sorry to shout like that, but, as the first post discusses, this is the bottom of the legal food chain. The only thing below contract attorneys on the legal food chain is excrement, which technically is not on the food chain, and it's not clear we are above that. So nobody really chooses this. In any event, at the risk of being not-funny, I will attempt to address these questions. Some of them are compound, so I object to the form and reserve the right to break them up as needed. This is going to be a long post. Get something to eat. And, more importantly, something to drink, preferably alcoholic.

So who becomes a contract attorney?

This is more complex than it sounds. There are some generalizations that are extraordinarily accurate, however. While accurate, they are definitely not politically correct and will probably not win me many friends. Any contract attorney who looks at things honestly, however, will recognize these general categories.

First of all, contract attorneys fall into two large categories: New law school graduates, and people with experience, sometimes extensive. The new grads came to Washington, usually, because they have a desire to Do Something, be it in the government or political realms, or because they believe that DC is part of The Big Time, and that if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere. Many of them are hoping to work for government or Congress. They have found that it is more difficult than they thought to get into these careers, however, and become contract attorneys to pay the bills. When there is work (and overtime) the money is good, after all.

Folks with experience are a much more complex group, especially these days. Big firms are laying people off left and right if they aren't going belly-up completely, like Howrey (which once was the second largest firm in the city.).  Lots of people who used to be in the upper echelons of the profession now find themselves in Temp Town. This skews some of the generalizations that used to apply almost universally, but not completely, because one of the generalizations accounted for folks like this. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

And why? 

OK, not ahead of myself anymore. Obviously, no one would choose to be at the bottom of the food chain (or, under the worst-case scenario described above, in the sewage system below the bottom of the food chain). So what explains why there are always people willing, however grudgingly, to be contract attorneys? I am going to suggest, at the risk of being found offensive, that there are categories of people who are more likely to wind up as contract attorneys. Not coincidentally, these categories tend to represent the unspoken prejudices of the big firms in town, which are of course, outside of government, the biggest employers of attorneys here. Despite much lip service toward "diversity," most big firms remain bound by their preference for grads of the Top 25 law schools. They satisfy their "diversity" requirements from that pool, not the folks that become contract attorneys. In any event, in no particular order, these are the categories:

1. Minorities.

2. Women.

3. Abnormally short men.

4. Abnormally obese of either gender.

5. Speaking of gender, openly gay individuals and transvestites.

6. People who went to shitty law schools or performed not particularly well at mid-level law schools.

7. Older people.

and the wildcard, which is in play more and more as firms continue to lay off people who thought they were on the big-firm tack:

8. Bad things happen to good people.

I am not endorsing these categories as the basis for discrimination. I am simply stating that contract attorneys seem to fit into these categories, by and large (there are always outliers. This isn't a science.) However, the more categories a person fits, the more likely he or she is to be a contract attorney. One usually is not enough. Three or more is a virtual guarantee, however, unless that person is bringing Google as a client. If that's the case, all bets are off. If you are a contract attorney who disagrees with me, look around you and tell me that the above categories are not overrepresented relative to the general law firm population. Yeah, thought so. How do you like me now?

What's the upside of the job?

In a word, money. If you can't get on with a big firm or the government, this is the easiest way to make good money in this town as a lawyer, at least as long as there is work with overtime. No overtime equals slow starvation. But the overtime situation is improving again, so we're back to money. It talks.


Having "contract attorney" or anything resembling that on your resume is the kiss of death for most real jobs. Oddly enough, the government is the major exception. Most folks, though, assume that your are a  contract attorney for a reason, as in you can't find a "real job" because of some major defect. I think that actually is usually not true (I concede it is true for a significant minority of contract attorneys, which is why we all get painted with that brush) but that's the way it is.

The other major downside, of course, is you have no idea whether you are working next week, or often even tomorrow. Will there be work? Will there be overtime? Will you be able to pay the mortgage? Who fucking knows? You sure don't.

What do contract attorney's want to do instead?

Many contract attorneys either have, or want to believe they have, their own practice. I would say most of those who say they have their own practice fall into the "want to believe" category. I know some folks who actually have more than one client, who rent temporary office space, have partners and probably will one day make it a going probposition but do contract work right now because they don't make enough from their own practice to pay the bills. These people spend a lot of time on the phone during projects, trying to keep their practice going and growing while also clicking enough to remain employed. It's a delicate balance.

Then there are those who say they have their own practice, but in reality have about one client a year and maximize the contract hours available because they don't actually have what it takes to strike out on their own. These people, basically, are delusional.

The last group is those of us who would like to do something else, doen't really want our own practice, but don't know where we're going from here. Maybe we're delusional, too, in believing that there might be somewhere else to go. In any event, we tend to be long-term at this shit. That either makes you bitter and cynical, or you start a blog. Beats me.

What was it like before the economy went to hell?

This used to be a good way to make a living. If a project didn't have 20 hours of overtime, you turned it down. You never sat home more than a couple days, at least if you were any good. (Yeah, I am. Suck on it.) There was always another 20-hour OT project coming down the pike. Mid-2008, all that changed. Good people started sitting home for six months at a time and more. Even when there was work, it was no overtime, and you would sit at home for a week, two, three before another project came up. Mid-2010, things started to improve, and the first half of this year was pretty good, with rates rising and more overtime available, but nobody has forgotten the fall, and we all are half-scared that 2008 will hit again. So I guess we miss the good old days, which actually weren't all that good, career-wise, but look good from here from a financial standpoint.

Maybe this is helpful in understanding how folks got here, maybe not. I guess it's not funny. Probably could have used a fart joke or two. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bathroom break

I understand that, given the pressure to click, contract attorneys are somewhat limited in the time they have for activities not related to the job at hand, at least if they want to get paid for the job at hand. The agency and, by extension, the firm know how often you are clicking, so they can tell when you are away. Too much time with no clicking, and a contract attorney is likely to get the phone call or email letting them know that the project is over -- at least for them.

Alas, this leads to some predictable but undesirable results. I won't say nobody else does it, but I will say that nobody spends more time on their cell phones in the bathroom than contract attorneys. I can't begin to count how many times I have stood next to someone, taking a leak, as that person blabbed away on his phone to someone who had to be at least a little creeped out by the background noise. Likewise, I frequently hear voices emerging from stalls, clearly on the phone, making me want to scream, "He's taking a dump while he talks to you!" Haven't done that yet, but it's out there.

I understand why it happens. People are pressed for time, yada yada yada. But if you care what the person on the other end of the phone thinks, why would you do it?

I don't know. The only thing I know about this whole matter is, when someone is in the can with me, talking on the phone, I pee as loud as I can and flush early and often. I might even shout out about what a great dump I'm taking. Perhaps this will introduce an element of shame and the realization that just because you can talk on the phone in a particular place doesn't mean you should.

Actual temp statement

Yeah, I've given up trying to number them. Perhaps you can keep track yourselves at home. In any event, the associate left today about 45 minutes before the temps' day is supposed to end. I guess the project manager was still around somewhere, but basically firm supervision of the temps had ended, prompting this:

CA1: I vote we draw straws and one person stays behind to log us all out of the system at 7.

Gotta love that entrepreneurial spirit. Alas, no one was willing to be the stay-behind sap. Should have offered money.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Garden Gnome's cousin?

I got to work early this morning, as I usually do, and was alone in the work area, reading a book. (It doesn't matter how early you get there, you can't start work until the appointed hour. More on that later.) So I was caught by surprise when some old dude walks in and starts grilling me for information.

Old Creepy Dude: Are you on Project X?

Me: Uh, yeah. (Thinking all the while, who the fuck are you?)

OCD: How long have you been here?

Me: A couple weeks, I guess (still thinking, who the fuck are you and why do you want to know?)

OCD: Are any of these seats open?

Me: I don't know. (WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?!?!?!?!?!?)

OCD: That was my seat.

He indicates the seat in which I am sitting, and suddenly, I don't care who the fuck Old Creepy Dude is, he is infringing on my space in an unacceptable way. I begin to look for things that can be used as a weapon in case he loses it completely, but first I answer:

Me: Well, not any more.

At this point, the project manager comes into the room and saves me. Or he saves Old Creepy Dude, who probably was only seconds away from being killed with a pen or something. Whatever. In any event, it turns out that OCD used to be on this project, was called back because they needed more bodies and, as is typical of contract attorneys, was unable to read instructions. He was well over an hour early and wasn't supposed to be in the work space at all. He was being brought back for an aspect of the project that was working elsewhere, even though he apparently used to occupy the seat I am in. Whole thing creeped me out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

You've lost that loving feeling

This is the fourth project I've been on since I started this blog, and it is probably #4 in terms of how interesting the project is from a blog perspective.   The first project was the best, obviously, as it gave birth to this effort. Temps being temps, there is always something to write about. But let's face it, some projects are better than others. In any event, the key to how interesting a project is lies, I think, in whether the conflict is logistical or legal. Bad management is always fun to watch. Think about Office Space, or 9 to 5. Nothing substantive, really, but all about management style. That's why the first project was so good -- management was a nightmare. You can talk about that shit all day. This project, the problems are legal, which means I can't talk about them. In any event, cut me some slack, keep reading, and I will tell you what I can. I am casting my memory back there, lord, (come on, give me credit for the Van Morrison reference) and I will try to fill in with historical references. In the meantime, if you are dissatisfied, please refer to the title of the blog.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lulled into a false sense of security

So, yeah, they fed us again today. That's what this agency does.  Every Friday, you get something. Today was bagels, but we knew that, because last week was breakfast burritoes. Next week will be pizza. There is a certain comfort in knowing that.

It was not always so. For years, this agency fed us pizza on Fridays. It was shitty pizza, but it was free, which improves the quality by a couple orders of magnitude. Eventually, they changed pizza sources to one that is pretty good, but then they changed to a different rotation: sometimes pizza, sometimes bagels, sometimes breakfast burritoes, with no predictability. This was not a popular move, and not because people didn't like the food.

Let's face it, this job has enough instability built in without extending that to the free food.

Of course, this leads to an interesting way of measuring how long a project is expected to last. This morning, as the bagels came in, one of the temps said: So, do you think we'll be here to get pizza?

Man, if that isn't the $64,000 question. Dude was wondering if we'd be working for one more week. Welcome to our world.

You decide what number Actual Temp Statement this is

I'm not going to lie -- some of the Actual Temp Statements are things I say at work, trying to liven things up. Sue me. (That's a lawyer joke. Get it? Yeah, yeah, refer to the title of the blog.) Many are not, of course. I'll let you wonder about this one:

CA1: Is Tom Bodett someone we should have heard of in the absence of Motel 6 commercials?

I looked up Tom Bodett. The answer is, No.

Fine, jack me up

Despite my disclaimer that I was not sure about the number that should be assigned to the last Actual Temp Statement, somebody jacked me up about it because I was wrong. Of course, it appears that I was wrong by about 4 -- apparently, it sure as hell wasn't #9 -- but I reiterate, I am not counting. It's nice to know that somebody is keeping that close of a track on this. God knows I'm not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Actual temp statement #9

Don't jack me up if you guys are keeping track of what "Actual Temp Statement" this actually is, but I think 9 is right. If not, please refer to the title of the blog. In any event, overheard today:

CA1: If it weren't for Barry White, Earth Wind & Fire and a bottle of cold duck, I wouldn't be here today.

Blogging behind enemy lines

Yeah, the previous post was composed at work -- only the second instance of blogging behind enemy lines, but I like the idea. Probably explains why it just kind of lies there, though. Too rushed to really develop it. Oh, well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Let the food coma begin!

So they fed us on Friday -- this agency always does. Sometimes it's bagels, somtimes it's pizza, but this past Friday it was breakfast burritoes. Nice, heavy, coma-inducing breakfast burritoes. It was only natural, then, that the response to anyone asking questions about simple things (such questions made necessary by the bizarre review rules we're working under) became, "Don't go into Burrito Fog!" Unfortunately, I think this whole project is laboring under Burrito Fog.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Use your discretion, but don't

So this new project I'm on, on the face of it, actually requires some skill. Theoretically, that's why we were chosen -- something in our resumes led the firm to believe that we know our asses from a hole in the ground with respect to this particular kind of project, which is not a run-of-the-mill document review. Alas, the difference between my ass and a hole in the ground apparently has become vanishingly small, because our freedom to make a distinction between the two has disappeared. This is what we in the industry like to call The Fear Factor. Because they fear the consequences of being wrong about our ability to make a correct decision, and they fear even more that we cannot make a correct decision, law firms try to ensure that we have no discretion when it comes to making decisions. They try to write decision-making rules that make it impossible for us to go in a direction they don't want us to, regardless of whether that direction might actually be the correct decision. Usually this is in the context of a massive first review where the firm has no idea who is any good and who is the next Bridge Troll. I guess old habits die hard.

Food isn't always bad, unless it is

New project, new agency, new policy on food. The agency I am working for now always feeds us on Friday. They rotate, breakfast bagels, breakfast burritoes, pizza for lunch. Depending on what Friday it is, there you go. So yesterday was breakfast burritoes. Personally, I think this is to keep us guessing on whether we are about to be fired -- if you always get fed on Friday, how can you interpret that as a sign that the project is over? Diabolical, I think.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Blast from the past

A young lady whose name escapes me started on my new project today, but I have worked with her in the past, and seeing her reminded me of a guy who was on that project, and a story worth sharing (maybe). How was that for a sentence? In any event, I never cared about this guy enough to give him a nickname, but if I had, it would have been something like Douchey McDouchehead. We'll go with DMD for short, because I just realized that there is probably at least one more reference to him out there, as I was on another project with him later. Fortunately, he got cut from that one for being a douche, but we'll save that. Don't you love stream of consciousness?

So we're on this project, and DMD is a talker. Talking on projects is not bad, but a talker is. A talker never shuts up. At some point, this invites a privately imposed death sentence. Unfortunately, both the law and the agency's rules discourage imposing such a sentence, which means you have to simply turn up the volume on your headphones and hope that DMD at some point shuts the fuck up. Alas, talkers never do.

So DMD is holding forth about his Cajun heritage and how this makes him a great cook and how he loves French cooking and how one day he would love to go to France. This guy seems about as Cajun as the New York Yankees, but what the fuck do I know? Still, I finally feel compelled to do something to stop this train, so when he mentions his desire to go to France, I pounce.

DMD: I'm such a fucking loser that all I can think about is going to France one day (OK, I made up that quote because I can't remember what he actually said that made me chime in, but it was something like that. It was nearly a year ago -- sue me for not remembering.)

Me: Yeah, France is great, except it's full of French people.

DMD: I'm French.

Me: You're really not undermining my argument here.

OK, the the "France is full of French people" was a well-used cheap shot. All I have to say about that particular cheap shot is DMD jumped to another project about three days later. Cheap shots pay off.

Actual Temp Conversation # something or other

What's the saying, keep your friends close?  I think the rest of that aphorism (or whatever the fuck that is -- maxim, maybe?) is "and your enemies closer."   In any event, there was a conversation on the job today that reminded me of that. The firm set up a Sharepoint site for us to post questions that they could answer in real time. The URL was phenomenally long and complicated. The fact that it would be saved in the brower did not stop at least some complaints, which led to this conversation:

CA1: They can't possibly expect us to log into this routinely. It'll take all day.

CA2: Just save it as a "favorite."

CA1: No way. Calling it a favorite implies that I like it, and I don't.

CA2:  Technology is your friend.

CA1: No, it isn't. Technology will kill you faster than anything, in ways you never dreamed of, without you ever knowing it is coming. Face it, the Amish have the right idea. No fucking technology. But I think they're wrong about airplanes. I mean, seriously, who's taking a horse and buggy to California?

CA2: But you're not Amish.

CA1: And do you have any idea how hard it is to become Amish? The initiation makes fraternities look like a bunch of pussies. The questionnaire alone will kill you, and that's just to get started.

CA2: There's a questionnaire?

CA1: Yeah, it's online. Which seems kind of fucked up. I mean, how can they have a questionnaire online if they don't use computers? Anyway, I think it's really hard to join.