Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Cheaper by the Hour

Cheaper by the Hour: Temporary Lawyers and the Deprofessionalization of the Law

Robert A. Brooks
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cheaper by the Hour
    Book Description:

    Recent law school graduates often work as temporary attorneys, but law firm layoffs and downsizing have strengthened the temporary attorney industry.Cheaper by the Houris the first book-length account of these workers.Drawing from participant observation and interviews, Robert A. Brooks provides a richly detailed ethnographic account of freelance attorneys in Washington, DC. He places their document review work in the larger context of the deprofessionalization of skilled labor and considers how professionals relegated to temporary jobs feel diminished, degraded, or demeaned by work that is often tedious, repetitive, and well beneath their abilities.Brooks documents how firms break a lawyer's work into discrete components that require less skill to realize maximum profits. Moreover, he argues that information technology and efficiency demands are further stratifying the profession and creating a new underclass of lawyers who do low-end commodity work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0287-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 Degraded and Insecure: The “New” Workforce
    (pp. 1-27)

    Rick had this to say about his first experience working on a document review project as a temporary lawyer: “I thought it was a little stultifying, you know, frankly. I thought it was kind of a waste of time and eff ort and money …. I thought it was a little odd that we were just expected to fill out sheets and code them and separate them into one stack or another, as opposed to actually functioning as temporary litigators, looking for documents that would assist in the prosecution or defense of the case.”

    Many of the attorneys I interviewed...

  5. 2 “Basically Interchangeable”: The Creation of the Temporary Lawyer
    (pp. 28-54)

    The temporary attorney industry began with a handful of one-person agencies in the 1980s in New York City and Washington, D.C., and it is now a national, $1.5 billion per year business. Law firms were initially resistant to using temporary attorneys, but their use is now widely accepted. Thus, of particular interest here is the marketing of the temporary lawyer, which involved both the legal press and placement agencies, whose apparent goal was to change the perception of the temporary attorney from “damaged goods” to a legitimate, professionalized category (Agger 1997; MacLachlan 2001). This process was quite similar to the...

  6. 3 Life on the Concourse Level: Doing Document Review
    (pp. 55-77)

    Publisher Mortimer Zuckerman, who was trained as an attorney but never practiced, said that law is the opposite of sex: “Even when it’s good, it’s lousy” (Paumgarten 2007). When it’s bad, then, it must be miserable. This research involves a particular type of miserable work that is commonly performed by temporary attorneys: document review.¹ Document review involves the reading and coding of documents relating to a legal matter, typically in advance of producing the documents to an opposing party. This work is particularly deprofessionalized, even in the context of temporary attorney work: it is deskilled, intensified, routinized, and controlled. Temporary...

  7. 4 Box Shopping in “Nike Town”: Struggles over Work
    (pp. 78-101)

    Conflicts between employer and employee can be conceptualized in four different realms: product, work output, time, and identity (Ackroyd and Thompson 1999). Within each of these spheres, employers and workers act out a mutually dependent struggle. Struggles over product typically take the form of employee pilfering or embezzlement. Because my research involved the provision of services, pilfering only occasionally arose in the context of “extras,” like food. For example, I was assigned to a document review project at the Washington, D.C., office of a large New York firm that had a very nice cafeteria on-site. Project attorneys were permitted to...

  8. 5 “Keeping Count of Every Freakin’ Minute”: Struggles over Time
    (pp. 102-129)

    Under industrialization, working time rather than task time (work output) became the primary method of organizing work. Working time was made increasingly regular, defined by a specific number of hours in the day and days in the week. Employers were thus constrained because they could only assign tasks that could be completed during work hours and they had to compensate employees for work performed in excess of the allotted hours (Rubery, Ward, and Grimshaw 2005). Therefore, control over time became a central component of the working relationship (Epstein and Kalleberg 2001). Many researchers (e.g., Rubery, Ward, and Grimshaw 2005). Therefore...

  9. 6 “A Glorified Data Entry Person”: Struggles over Identity
    (pp. 130-158)

    Our work tends to define us. This may be especially true for professional work, which has long periods of socialization and is afforded a high degree of prestige and exclusivity.¹ For lawyers, formation of identity begins in law school, where students are trained to “think like a lawyer” (Mertz 2007). Identity socialization continues through professional interaction and is reinforced through collective action by bar associations, attorney discipline systems, and specialty practice groups, among others. Through this socialization, certain qualities or personality characteristics are emphasized and expectations about behaviors are communicated. For example, the legal profession tends to emphasize autonomy and...

  10. 7 “I Would Rather Grow in India”: The Emerging Legal Underclass
    (pp. 159-186)

    We expect professional work to be autonomous, collegial, and independent and to involve interesting, challenging, customized, and individualized work that serves a broader public purpose. However, powerful forces are reshaping professional work, making it more like other types of work. Professionals are becoming proletarianized and losing ideological autonomy as they are absorbed into hierarchical organizations. Professional work is becoming more insecure and, in some areas, is also being degraded. Just as craft work was deskilled and brought under management control, digital technologies are now allowing some aspects of professional work to become more routinized, controlled, and intensified. Some professional work...

  11. Appendix A: Document Review Project Summary
    (pp. 187-188)
  12. Appendix B: The Questionnaire
    (pp. 189-190)
  13. Appendix C: The Attorneys
    (pp. 191-196)
  14. References
    (pp. 197-212)
  15. Index
    (pp. 213-216)