Thanks to a global pandemic, law firms have made remote work plans for their employees to flatten the curve and stop the rapid spread of COVID-19. Contract attorneys, however, are facing a much different reality in this time of disease.
Above the Law has received many tips from these attorneys, lamenting the sorry state of affairs they’ve been working under in cities across the country. Here are some of their stories.
Despite the ability to securely and efficiently perform document review online, many legal staffing agencies are refusing to allow employees to work remotely. So, the only option we have, if we want to continue earning money, is to go into the review centers.
Unfortunately, most of the review centers are hot beds for the spread of this virus. Most review centers are either open-space work environments that are densely packed with desks and people, or are small rooms densely packed with desks and people. And, by densely packed I mean, attorneys are placed next to one another with less than one foot of space. Both of these types of spaces are a recipe for disaster in this current environment.
I am in NYC and not currently working out of fear of exposure to the Covid19 and management has refused to address worker or potential worker concerns. Companies like [REDACTED] have tightly packed sardine facilities and expect workers to come in with a copy and paste Covid19 email blast which does not address the underlying issues.
As a document review attorney, you have to apply for at least 10 agencies in order to have constant work. But the majority of time you stay home a few days or weeks between projects. During this time, you don’t get paid so you have to apply for unemployment benefits which is not enough to survive.
Most of the time you get paid for your work between $28 and $33 an hour without benefits such as healthcare etc. As an attorney with student loans and a family and mortgage, it is very difficult to survive with this money. Especially when you are the only person earning in the family.
Coronavirus made it even more difficult for us to get on a project now. I have applied for unemployment, but the $370ish a week I get is not sufficient to pay my bills and mortgage.
[REDACTED’s] downtown office has a lot of reviewers. Our client has considered the possibility of remote work but ultimately rejected the option. I am not sure if they rejected that option for their own associates too.
I am young and probably will not be affected, but if I unknowingly carry the virus and infect my much older colleagues, that’s an unconscionable position. And there’s a lot of older attorneys in my project, who are at much greater risk.
I hope you will help us start a public discussion of this second class citizen treatment in the legal field.
People have been campaigning [REDACTED] to offer remote work since they are notorious for having people work in close proximity. Instead of granting that option, they sent out a ridiculous email saying they will determine if social distancing is appropriate, asking people to self-identify their travel status (as if that matters because the damn virus is here in NYC which has the largest number of confirmed cases in the country) and then attempting to downplay the seriousness of this illness (and it is serious and highly infectious) by mentioning how many more people die from the flu.
We are currently still required to report to work despite there being more than 25 people present in very close working conditions. This is work that could be conducted remotely and is being conducted remotely by other document review companies. It is irresponsible and many attorneys present have elderly parents or children at home who have been sent home due to school closings.
I’ve worked as a contract attorney in NYC for some time and there is a growing problem across the country with agencies denying contract attorneys the right to work from home. There are contract attorneys quitting projects because they are expected to work in a shared workspace where everyone is sitting in close proximity, agencies are asking for contract attorneys to provide travel history which is irrelevant since the virus is already here. In many cases they are outright refusing the opportunity to work remotely.
It’s time we stood up for contract attorneys. To be quite frank, it’s unforgivable that people are expected to work in environments where their close contact could mean the possibility of contracting a critical illness. We can’t risk anyone’s health for the sake of litigation. This second-class treatment is not appropriate — especially now.
Please do what you can to help contract attorneys. Call a staffing agency today and let them know they need to do the right thing and offer remote work opportunities.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.