Not wanting to do doc review called “immature” by “consultant” – follow the money and smell the bullshit

The ABA reports on Ann Israel, a “career consultant” who scolded a Yale Law graduate as “very immature” for wanting to know how to escape from document review purgatory. (source)
Here is his question:

I’m a Yale Law grad winding up a federal clerkship in a small legal market. I had a horrendous experience with document review a few summers ago, and my goal is to avoid it at all costs. Do you think I can use my credentials as leverage for avoiding this work as a condition of employment? Alternatively, if I show the partners at the firm that I am a fantastic writer, will that allow me to avoid document review? (source)

Israel’s answer:

There are plenty of attorneys in the major city offices who are not putting in enough hours and would love to be doing doc review versus the threat of being asked to look for another job. Wake up to what is happening out there in the real world! (source)

Just a little background on Ann Israel. She is apparently a time-traveler, visiting us from an age when her her website was cool. She is notoriously humorless, and Above The Law said this about her: “sometimes she seems more interested in shilling for legal recruiters than offering actual insight.” (source).

In other words, out of touch, uptight, and full of shit when being full of shit helps her make a buck.

Apparently, this “consultant” considered doc review to be “an aspect of legal work that needs to be done as part of the bigger picture of law firm life.” She wrote “there are plenty of attorneys in the major city offices who are not putting in enough hours and would love to be doing doc review versus the threat of being asked to look for another job.”

That is a slave’s answer.

That is also an answer that confirms Above The Law’s evaluation that she’s more interested in shilling than helping. More power to her. If she can convince legions of desperate wanna-be-attorneys to thank her for helping her place them in shitty, dead-end, career-dooming doc review projects, then she’ll make more money condemning them to this circle of hell from which very few will ever emerge unscathed.

But, someone has to tell you that she’s full of shit. I’ll volunteer.

First of all, do you know what doc review pays? It varies, but how does $12 an hour sound to you? Work hard, and maybe you can even pull in $30 per hour, which isn’t terrible money for a recent graduate — as opposed to this gem, minimum ass-eating wage. Yep, that’s right, the Mexican guys hanging out in front of Home Depot will take home more money at the end of a day than that. I pay my babysitter more than that. I pay the guy who trims the hedges outside my house more than that. My wife pays our pool boy more than that — and we don’t even have a pool! (which is starting to make me suspicious).

And Ann Israel thinks that he is “immature” for wanting to avoid that.

Of course, it sounds like the unnamed Yale graduate is not likely to be working for minimum wage. It sounds like he thinks that he may wind up in Biglaw, but wants to avoid being relegated to the coal mines, with the minimum wage trolls.

Far from being “immature,” his concern is far-sighted. Lets face it, if you could get a job in biglaw, making $160,000 per year for standing in a room leafing through boxes of shit, alongside legions of law-zombies who are starving to death, well … that might just be an okay deal. The “immature” law graduate would jump at the opportunity to pack away that kind of cash, even if that means that they are working in conditions that even Upton Sinclair might find appalling.

Mirriam Seddiq, or as I call her "Ms. Freakin Awesome"

You want a mature perspective on Doc Review? Mirriam Seddiq has it:

A contract lawyer is someone who is employed by a temp agency to do work for a (usually) large law firm. The work consists of document review (usually) which means the lawyers (usually licensed meaning they can practice substantive law if they choose to) sit in a cubicle and go over documents (electronic or actual paper) and determine if they are privileged or relevant. You click off boxes on a computer. You might learn some new legal concepts but nothing in depth, just enough to make sure you are accurate when you go through your 1000 documents a day. I have always called it “walmart for lawyers” because it’s not really practicing law. It’s a job. It pays the bills. I might as well be working at Walmart except at a contract job I get to wear a stupid suit and heels and feel like I’m sort of lawyering. (source)

Of course, Seddiq is talking about contract lawyers doing doc review, not associates doing doc review, but the work is the same.

Jesus, I love this woman. Lets keep reading:

It’s a con. It’s not really lawyering and that’s the problem with contract jobs. They are truly meaningless. While it is important to pay the bills and put food on the table, you cannot claim to be a lawyer if all you do or have done is document review. I’ve done it. I did it for 6 months last year when I was just getting back to work. I did it for several months in 2005 when I had just moved to Baltimore. I get it. You’ve got to pay the bills. You’ve got a family to feed. So you find a contract job that has overtime because while 28 bucks an hour isn’t great 28 bucks plus time and a half gets you through the week. So you work 50 hours, maybe 60. At first you think, I’ll do this job and look for something else, or volunteer, or take on a traffic case or two. But you don’t. You sit your ass in that cubicle and hit shift F5 and before you know it a year has passed and while you have amassed no late fees on your credit cards and no overdraft fees on your bank account, you have also amassed no new skills. You have made money at the expense of making money in the future.

Look. The shit is hard. The economy is rough. I’ve been a trial lawyer my whole big girl life. This is a skill very few people have – give me a file today I can try it tomorrow. I figured when I wanted to go back to work the whole world would be clamoring for me. I was wrong. I’d been out of the game for two years and then all I had to offer was “contract lawyer”. While it showed I was working, it also showed that after two years at home all I could now do is get myself dressed in clothes not stained in spit-up. Because there is no actual lawyering involved in document review. I repeat. You are not practicing law.

I will not say that Ann Israel’s business card has no practical use to a law graduate in a tough economy. This is a good use for it:

At least if you use it that way, you’ll find that it can help you numb the pain of graduating into this shit-ass economy.

Now, if you actually want career advice, maybe you should call Mirriam Seddiq, because she seems to be her own woman (not shilling for the coal mines), she has the courage to call them like she sees them, and she’s been there.

Seddiq suggests that you might want to take that doc review job to pay the bills. I agree. There is no nobility in starving to death. But, Seddiq recommends giving up a day of doc review work here and there to get some actual experience.

My own advice, in addition to that, is that if you are currently doing doc review, you should do whatever you can to get out of it — NOW. That means taking less money to work for a small firm. That means doing pro-bono work. That means using your writing talents to blog, if you think that will help your career. Do whatever it takes to get out of doc review as fast as you can. Even being a paralegal is better than doc review, because as a paralegal, you actually do learn a lot about the practice of law — experience that will be valuable once you’re a big grown up lawyer.

What the advice boils down to is this: Ann Israel is full of shit. She’s trying to increase her pool of candidates to fill shit-stain jobs that will eventually be outsourced to India and the Philippines anyhow (thanks to the useless fucks at the ABA). If you are a law graduate who thinks that you have anything to offer the legal profession, then don’t just listen to me. Listen to Mirriam Seddiq, a woman who has been there, and who has no profit motive in seeing you turned into a worthless, unmarketable, unskilled, inexperienced slave.

5 Responses to Not wanting to do doc review called “immature” by “consultant” – follow the money and smell the bullshit

  1. Joe Blow says:

    Doc review is for letting your career die on the vine. Sure, you might hit your hours, but whatever lawyering skills you might have will waste away as you click through the years you should be learning how to practice law. Law firms know this, but they don’t care because they only plan on 2% of associates hanging around more than 6 years.

  2. anon says:

    Our law school had student business cards printed up for us. I used most of mine for that exact purpose in the video. I think it was the right decision.

  3. Tim says:

    I agree with the general sentiment re doc review (though in fairness, I’ve only done a teeny-tiny fraction of it in my young career).

    However, warrants of doc review aside, “immature lawyer” did kind of need a smack down. Instead of telling him that he should appreciate doc review, maybe the response should go something like this:

    Don’t be a douche. You are not better than your peers; acting like you are will be a sure way to alienate yourself. Coming to work all Yaley-McClerkship Pants is not going to endear you to anyone.

    It seems likely that he’s going to a big firm, and trust me (this time I do speak from experience) T14 + clerkship + Biglaw + Small Market = many of your peers will think you’re a douche automatically. Trying to “leverage” your way out of work that everyone is expected to do (even if it is shitty work) is a bad idea. His suggested alternative — demonstrating that your time is valuable elsewhere, is drastically better.

  4. SF has jobs at $40/hr in doc review.
    The Yale lawyer said he did doc review and “had a horrendous experience.” I think doing something and realizing you don’t want to do it again and would like to find ways to excel in other areas so you don’t have to do the work you hate is pretty reasonable. Including pulling the Ivy League card.
    I find it hard to imagine a horrendous experience doing doc review, so maybe the Eli is a delicate flower in which case they will wither away anyway.
    You and Seddiq are right, doc review is not really lawyering. And the more time you spend at doc review without doing other things, the more likely you are to stay.
    There are doc reviewers who do the work because they want time to surf or run in marathons. There are doc reviewers who do it because they hate the lifestyle of firms. Others want to collect unemployment between gigs while they live in their camper in Alaska. Others are transitioning to retirement, have been laid off at other firms, or have problems getting along with humans. For some people, doc review is a great career.
    For others, what was a stop gap becomes a dead end. You’re absolutely right–people who want to be lawyers should take time off, develop other skills, take on pro bono work or write.

    There is the same caste system with PhDs and academia. Those who teach at community colleges are not really using their education. They’re not legitimate, they’re not doing research. And they can rarely if ever make the switch to a research institution because they don’t have time to develop a research program and they forget their research and writing skills.

  5. Frank says:

    I have been looking for doc review work and I am not able to get anything. I went to a crappy law school that is out of town and never worked in a firm, I did however work for attorneys and the prosecutor most of my law school career.
    Does anyone know anything I don’t know, I thought getting these jobs was easy.
    What are these firms looking for

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