A former contract attorney at Robbins Geller writes me about her second-class experience at $33/hour, hired through Special Counsel:
I am an attorney who works on my own cases, but I also work contract jobs, mostly "document review" temp jobs for large firms taking on large-scale litigation. I'm sure you are at least vaguely familiar with our fringe group of half-employed attorneys.
I'm writing because I'm working at Robbins, Gellar, Rudman and Dowd on their class action suit against [Fortune 500 company omitted].
We've worked this job for over a year and a half. We work in a room dedicated for the computer server/old files that is located off of a parking garage. There are no bathrooms and we must ride freight elevators up 20 floors to use the restroom. There is basically no heat and there are no windows. They've attempted to fix the air and/or heat problem but we just bring blankets and coats when it's cold. It can be colder in our area than outside because we are encased in the uninsulated concrete of a parking garage. (we are in california). The firm itself is located upstairs on the top floors of our high-rise building with gorgeous views and sponsored lunches for all employees. I'm sure various OSHA standards are not being satisfied in our area. We were told to keep is hush-hush around building supervisors because this isn't "an area where people are supposed to be working"... We affectionately call it "the burrow". Because we are contract employees, we do not get paid holidays or benefits of any kind. ...
We have not been paid on time numerous occasions, we have also come in and been sent home. I fought with our contract employer for almost two weeks to get them to pay us the "reporting period" pay which is a California Labor Code requirement.
I read an article about you, Ted, recently (on Above the Law). I actually really believe in the case we are working on, but I am fundamentally offended at our conditions, pay and the blatant violations that just keep happening. Most of my co-workers are also frustrated, some have left/been fired for very thinly veiled reasons. One even made a sexual harassment complaint and told it "wasn't a good time" for that.
... I'm sure this is happening everywhere across the country and we are not the only ones enduring this type of treatment by our own collegues, but its made me feel better to at least express my discontent. Its so frustrating to have lay-people always lambasting class action suits because "the attorneys always get all the money" - what they unfortunately don't know, is that yes, some attorneys get all the money, and they do it by canabalizing their own.
...you have my permission to blog all about this - I think that may be the only justice that my co-workers in the dungeon and I will have. And I just feel so strongly that Robbins (and our staffing company, Special Counsel) have really abused us. I have a lot of regard and esteem for my fellow attorneys. I think we have all worked very hard to get to where we are, even those of us on the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak. And to think that the "partners" and associates at Robbins have entirely forgotten what it's like to be on the low end is just, well... mind-numbing to me. Professional cannibalism is how I think of it ...
Are conditions for contract attorneys at defense firms comparable or worse? I honestly don't know. But it's worth noting that when plaintiff-side firms say that they need an award of a substantial multiplier of their lodestar, that even just a 1.0 lodestar would give the decision-making partners a substantial multi-million-a-year profit given how heavily leveraged plaintiff-side work is.