I was in court today on a per diem matter in Civil Court. I checked the calendar and noted that my case was 188 on the calendar. All I had to do was yell out, "Plaintiff, application!" Easy schmeezy, right? This is what the calendar call sounded like (I actually wrote it down, because I couldn't believe what I was hearing):
one huded one personal touch and dandho
one huded too so non jury personal touch
one huded tree rental surrogates altight
one huded foh wess end buy de parsippany.
|She's still warm. Can you go to a compliance|
conference for me on Friday? Lemme know
Yah, he sounded liked he had a whole keg of beer and went to work to call the calendar call. Now, if he wasn't actually drunk--THAT is job security. You are hired to call out the calendar and little else, you somehow are no longer able to to do the one task you were hired to do and you still get to do it. Thank God that I noted the number and the numbers were somewhat discernible. I heard "one huded aay ate" and stood quickly to get my adjournment and leave. He said something to me, when I asked for the date. I just repeated myself and skedaddled. I laughed all the way to my office. That's the nice side of per diem work.
So, just to summarize, you are a warm body sent to court to get adjournments and such and you're paid. I could be a chimp with a pipe in plaid pants and accomplish the task. Essentially, I'm doing the work that any first year associate in a small to mid-sized firm SHOULD be doing to learn the ins and outs of court, but the firms that hire me are too cheap to take someone on full-time. It's outsourcing on a small scale.
Then I ran into this delightful article about per diem work, which doesn't mention it by name. Instead, the article is entitled: Lawyers seek more work-life balance; firms accommodate them
So nice of them to do that. But you and I and the chimp that wants to go to court instead of me, knows better. But here are the high points (with italics):
By day, Katie Birmingham is all about her inner foodie, as chef-owner of her Atlanta eatery, Noon Midtown. By night, Birmingham's a barrister for Counsel on Call, a law firm that gives its network of lawyers the choice to take on as much or as little legal work as desired. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck--it's per diem work. Call it like it is.
Though she loves the law and has practiced since 2003, Birmingham loves cooking just as much, and left the big Atlanta firm Kilpatrick Stockton in 2008 to have the flexibility to do both. Hmmm... in the midst of the recession, she "left" KS to open a restaurant and be a per diem attorney.
"Cooking is such a strong passion for me; it always has been," she said. The flexible scheduling with Counsel on Call "gives you a little bit more control over your time and, as a consequence, more control of your life." I agree. This is a perk. But I wish my time, resulted in more money. I doubt Atlanta pays more.
Now onto the part of the article that talks about screwing attorneys (even partners) out of money under the guise of work-life balance.
"The legal profession right now is changing so much. First, there are fewer jobs now in the industry. Second, you have a squeeze on rates, which makes it hard to bill a premium on associates," said Stephen M. Paskoff, an attorney, founder and president of ELI, an Atlanta-based employer consulting firm that specializes in harassment, wage and hour compliance and other workplace training. "I do think there's a greater appreciation for diversity."
Part of that diversity appreciation comes from a realization by law firms they risk losing good lawyers by holding on to rigid standards. "For today's people coming fresh out of law school, it's not at all unusual for them to talk to you about their desire to have balance of life," said Roger Quillen, chairman and managing partner of Fisher & Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm based in Atlanta.
Andria Lure Ryan, a partner at Fisher & Phillips, works on a reduced schedule. As a single mom, she's juggling her kids' wrestling, softball and volleyball practices and games and other activities. She's wired, though, so whether she's in the office or at her youngest daughter's softball game, she's never more than a iPhone "beep" away. "If I’m not responsive to my clients when they need me to be, then I’m going to lose my clients."
There is a trade-off: Ryan earns roughly 25 percent less than her peer partners who do not work a reduced schedule, but she said it's worth it.
With more lawyers seeking time do engage in activities beyond familial obligations, more firms are formalizing leave policies tailored for that.
"A couple of generations ago, it was unheard of for you to think you could be an effective lawyer and work reduced hours. It's no longer," said Vanessa E. Goggans, human resources partner at Morris, Manning Martin in Atlanta. Reduce your hours and your pay, or join the bread line.
Am I the only one that sees this as a way of reducing salaries? Am I the only one who sees per diem as a means of outsourcing your grunt work as an alternative to hiring a first year associate? Tell me if I'm wrong, please! I want to think that law firms are doing this for the benefit of associates, but I somehow doubt that work-life balance is on their balance sheets.