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Profit grows with use of temporary attorneys

Following in the footsteps of many large, East Coast-based law firms, Southern California firms are relying more and more on temporary attorneys for help with the rising amount of discovery documents, and particularly electronic discovery. Since 1999, 90 percent of all documents produced are electronic correspondence and data. This has certainly created a market for an unusual, and highly profitable, utilization of legal talent.

The vast majority of firms increasing their use of contract attorneys in the last three years attribute it to the burden of document discovery. Many firms, however, view document review as a profit center. Contract attorney rates are at a fraction of the cost to pay their internal staff. Firms engage staffing agencies to find experienced, qualified document reviewers and handle all administrative tasks related to scheduling and payment of the contractors. Some staffing firms, such as Davidson Attorneys, also offer clients space and laptops for the project, and provide project management to prevent the firm's associates from being inundated by questions. This frees up their associates to perform more substantive work.

Discovery costs in litigation can be extremely expensive and often frustrate a firm's efforts. Cost-sensitive clients are often advised to settle, even when they have a good case. Some firms find it extremely beneficial to pass through the cost-savings of using contract attorneys to their client to encourage the client to move forward to trial.

In recent years, and with growing frequency, corporate clients are requesting their legal counsel hire contract attorneys to assist with document-intensive matters, including mergers and acquisitions and to keep litigation costs down. Some corporate clients with in-house legal departments are even taking it upon themselves to take bids from and engage staffing firms.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of using contract attorneys is not having to be stuck with the extra labor and paying wages when the work ends, and it can end suddenly. Some may wonder why attorneys would choose to do this type of work, especially with the instability involved. A common misconception is that the only attorneys who would do document review are those who cannot find other employment. In fact, reasons for seeking document review work vary greatly, and currently there are as many as 5,000 attorneys in Washington, D.C., working full-time as document reviewers.

Many document review attorneys are graduates of top-tier law school schools, trying to figure out which direction to take. Some attorneys are transitioning between jobs, others looking for supplemental work to their own law practice, and some desiring the flexibility to travel or pursue non-legal ventures. Attorneys licensed in other states that have relocated to California typically seek document review work while they prepare for our notorious Bar exam, and some reviewers are seasoned attorneys that leave jobs at large firms for medical reasons or to raise families. There is a great deal of legal talent out there and available to assist firms when they need it.

Submitted by Samantha Dabish, legal recruiter and project team manager for Davidson Attorneys.

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