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Staff Attorneys Getting Hit From All Sides

Recent reports of staff attorney layoffs have shined a light on an important legal role in BigLaw that often flies well under the radar. The news has also revealed some bitter feelings toward staff attorneys from another group: temporary attorneys.

This week, Above the Law reported that, following major staff attorney cuts at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Covington & Burling, law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison has now let go of as many as 45 staff attorneys since November 2008. An ATL tipster says that the staff attorneys are being cut so that the firm can "have some work for 80 or so first years that just started who are already doing nothing but doc review and who should expect to be doing nothing but doc review for the foreseeable future." The tipster adds that some of the staff attorneys have been there for seven and eight years and are being let go without any severance.

You would think that such treatment of staff attorneys would engender feelings of sympathy from fellow lawyers, but that is clearly not the case in some corners of the temporary attorney world. It seems that temporary or "contract" attorneys are commonly supervised by staff attorneys on the massive document reviews and other projects they take on for BigLaw, and some temporary attorneys are not-so-secretly pleased at the recent turn of events.

"Cry me a river," the Temporary Attorney blog began on Tuesday. It continued:

What do you expect from a bunch of despicable human rights violators who conduct mass retaliatory firings after workers contact the media about cockroach infested work environs and atrocious working conditions? After 8 years, Paul Weiss has thrown you out like a piece of trash, just as you have been complicit in treating countless souls like disposable trash throughout the years. Welcome back to the temp pool!

Comments on this post on Temporary Attorney poured in by the dozens, and the tone was typically vengeful. One string of comments compared staff attorneys "to kapos in Nazi concentration camps who collaborated with SS guards to stay alive longer."

Another commenter responded, "[w]e all know how they treated us. I hope they starve to death!! That song comes to mind, 'How does it feel to treat me like you do.....' Sorry to sound so mean, but I lost assignments there simply for taking a bathroom break. I was pregnant and these bitches had no sympathy for me."

Beyond the temporary attorney world, the tone was far more civil but not much more empathetic. In a post entitled, "Staff Attorneys: Ya should have seen it coming," Law and More wrote:

The business of law doesn't have much use for the function of staff attorney. And those getting let go should have seen it coming....The tasks they used to do will be done by associates, just-in-time contract lawyers, and attorneys in places around the world like India.... There is no reason for any of those classified as redundant and axed to be shocked. That's because you can see signs, sometimes faint sometimes obvious to all but those stuck in the past or even the present, that what you do to sing for your supper is losing or has lost value.

In BigLaw, and now even in the legal blog world, staff attorneys are getting it from all sides. Is there a legal blog out there to give a voice to staff attorneys? If not, there should be.

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 8, 2009 at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

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