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Staff Attorneys - tell me your stories and the pros and cons

I am currently applying for staff attorney positions in NYC shivermetimbers12/30/18
I'm a staff attorney, not based in NYC. Started as a contra nustaffatty01/19/19
You typically have a couple years to show you can get into p underemployedlawyer01/19/19
I've seen advertisements for project management certificatio nustaffatty01/19/19
I did the staff attorney thing for a couple years at a large nonlinearjdmba01/19/19
TPRM! I assume you were some sort of avp doing mostly spr fompliance202/01/19
I lasted over 10 years as a staff attorney. Unless you get i underemployedlawyer01/19/19
A friend of mine went from doc reciew to staff attorney (at isthisit01/21/19
Thanks all for the insight. It was more or less what I was e shivermetimbers02/01/19
shivermetimbers (Dec 30, 2018 - 12:47 am)

I am currently applying for staff attorney positions in NYC and some other markets. I have a background in federal criminal practice, doc review and one temporary contract staff attorney(ish) stint that lasted a few years. Please share your stories, if possible, on which firms treat their staff attorneys like humans vs those that don't. Any idea on current pay scales? PTO? Retirement? It is incredibly difficult to find clear info on the usual sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, etc.

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nustaffatty (Jan 19, 2019 - 10:23 am)

I'm a staff attorney, not based in NYC. Started as a contract attorney, was finally asked to be a staff attorney when an opening came up. My experience has been that once you are a staff attorney, you will not get out of that niche, unless you have some other background to bring to the table.

Pay scale is approximately half of what an associate makes. At my firm, I was told up-front that staff attorneys do not participate in the same bonus program that associates and partners participate in. There's no official bonus program for staff attorneys, but my bonus this year equated to a couple weeks of salary. There's an annual cost of living raise, but other than that, salary is pretty much fixed. Benefits are good and PTO time adds up to a couple of weeks per year.

Haven't heard any horror stories about other firms. I think it's just luck of the draw what kinds of personalities you get surrounded with - some people handle pressure better than others. If we work too many hours of overtime in any given week, HR calls and asks us if we are being abused. So partners will actually tell us to make sure we take breaks and insist we take days off if we have been working too hard.

Job is 40% doc review, 40% dep prep, 20% other. Other is typically priv log work or occasional legal research. Very, very occasionally I'm asked to help draft a brief - usually by a first year associate. Unfortunately, writing briefs is not like riding a bicycle - your skills are going to atrophy. If you are given any chances to write, take them.

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underemployedlawyer (Jan 19, 2019 - 10:33 am)

You typically have a couple years to show you can get into project management, if you don’t you will get fired. You will be fired for cause because over time you will have information they think you will use against them such as when they have you do non attorney work but say to make your billing sound like it was attorney work. They fear litigation as it harms their reputation so they will accuse you of horrible things to take a settlement and sign an NDA.

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nustaffatty (Jan 19, 2019 - 11:01 am)

I've seen advertisements for project management certifications. Has anyone actually gotten one of those?

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nonlinearjdmba (Jan 19, 2019 - 2:22 pm)

I did the staff attorney thing for a couple years at a large technology company. It was 100% overseeing doc review, so a mix of actual review, project management, QCing, review software tweaking. The most stressful elements of the actual work were ramping up for the start of a big review, and getting ready for a production, but 90% of the time it was chill/boring. It wasn't my cup of tea, and was clearly not leading to any kind of long-term career growth, so I bailed and sought out a JD preferred gig elsewhere. I had to grind in contract management / admin roles for a couple years, but that experience allowed me to get into third party risk management and contract negotiations at a large bank, which was been such an improvement all around.

Pay was around 65% of a big law first year associate's salary in the same market. I did have great health insurance, and access to other company benefits like 401k, stock purchase program, and the bonus was OK. It was pretty much guaranteed that you would get 15% of your salary, no more, no less.

A lot of the folks who stayed in the staff attorney role seemed either: (1) completely fine with it (this was very few people, I suspect); (2) those without the skills or confidence to try something else (vast majority); or (3) deluded into believing it will turn into something else (it won't).

During my early days in the doc review circuit, I worked for many staff attorneys who oversaw my work. If the firm was great, staff attorneys seemed to be treated OK, both in terms of professionalism and compensation. The dicier firms, however, staff attorneys seemed stressed underpaid, and miserable. The constant, however, is that staff attorneys will always be in a very different bucket than the real lawyers. That's fine for some, but if you aspire to bigger an better, probably best to look elsewhere.

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fompliance2 (Feb 1, 2019 - 8:37 am)

TPRM!

I assume you were some sort of avp doing mostly spreadsheets and share point all day while looking at some docs and attending a few meetings what a sweet gig p, good for you

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underemployedlawyer (Jan 19, 2019 - 3:51 pm)

I lasted over 10 years as a staff attorney. Unless you get into management your stay won’t be as long. Can only speak for the firm I worked at. If they liked you the rules they had didn’t apply. If they didn’t like you they made life hell but never said “hey you should quit”. If you don’t quit there are bad consequences of being fired especially if you go into federal employment. Mine was a very toxic environment. People would just vanish because they got fired. I personally got a good amount of leave but using it was a different story. One of my parents was hospitalized and they wouldn’t let me take any time off . If you do do something they don’t like they give you a bad review. By the time I was fired I got 50% the salary of a 1st year associate base salary. With OT you can make some of that up. I don’t think most firms are as bad as mine was but I can’t be certain. You will know if you never see any “good work” in writing comments .theyll only tell you by mouth so you have no way of proving people likes your work. For example my old job is never get positive feedback making me believe I couldn’t even handle doc review. My current job people personally request my work. I make a lot less now though

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isthisit (Jan 21, 2019 - 3:04 pm)

A friend of mine went from doc reciew to staff attorney (at a major law firm) back to doc review within 6 months. They laid him and the new cohort of staff attorneys off for some reason. He was unclear about it.

He was stoked about the pay and perks (free food, refunds on ridesharing from the office, etc.). Now he's back at the doc review grind. His pay was $60-$65 dollars an hour I think. I don't know about medical or 401Ks or whatever. I never asked.

He b!tched about office and project politics but I didn't ask for details.

I feel like doc review and staff attorney are especially vulnerable to sudden lay offs. So don't get comfortable OP. Doc review is for jabronis and burn outs.

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shivermetimbers (Feb 1, 2019 - 1:42 am)

Thanks all for the insight. It was more or less what I was expecting to hear and my reason for asking is because I know the treatment firm to firm can differ widely. I might still try to get a staff attorney gig if it has a specific area of law I'd like more experience in and isn't 100% litigation doc review supervising. I've already done that and want to move on.

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