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To avoid being buried alive by the ever-rising piles of discovery documents that define today’s litigation, many law firms are relying more than ever on temporary attorneys to help them make sense of the mess. Fueled in large part by electronic correspondence and data, the accelerating costs of document discovery by some estimates is expected to rise to $2.9 billion by 2007. All those documents equate to labor-intensive work for law firms that need to comb through the piles and analyze what surfaces. Many law firms responding to The National Law Journal‘s survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms reported this year that they hired significantly more temporary attorneys, also known as contract attorneys, than in 2004. And although some firms reported that they hired fewer of these attorneys this year, those firms that brought in more-and there are many-pointed to the burden of document discovery as the main reason. “We’re trying to find the right mix of attorneys,” said Paul Cuomo, an antitrust partner at Howrey in Washington. The firm has 220 contract attorneys on board now, compared with 182 last year. Most of those attorneys work at Howrey’s litigation support center in Virginia. The firm also employs 44 staff attorneys, lawyers who work full-time but are not on a partnership track. Cuomo explained that the staff attorneys guide and supervise the contract attorneys, who do much of the footwork in document retrieval and production. Determining which level of attorney should perform what task has taken some management tweaking, he said, but having contract attorneys on hand enables the firm to bulk up for cases that are particularly document-laden, and cut back when the work thins out. Firms add contract lawyers Other firms making big additions to their contract-attorney ranks this year include New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which brought in 131 this year compared with 85 last year; Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton, which hired 105 contract attorneys this year compared with 68 last year; Dechert, which brought aboard 99 this year compared with 32 last year; Los Angeles-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which relied on 81 contract attorneys this year compared with 46 last year; and Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, which hired 63 this year and 24 last year. Firms commonly bring in contract attorneys through agreements with staffing agencies that do much of the screening for them. Firms generally charge the client by the hour, with a markup for what they pay the temp agency. With growing frequency, however, corporate clients themselves are taking bids from staffing agencies and guiding the selection of contract attorneys who will work with law firms, said Robert Singer, former executive director at Weil, Gotshal & Manges of New York, who in August became chief executive officer of De Novo Legal, a staffing company in New York. In addition, he said that more corporate counsel are supplementing their own staffs with contract work. Regardless of who does the hiring, the greatest advantage to the arrangements is saying goodbye to the extra labor-and their wages-when the job is finished. Pittsburgh’s Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott last year hired 125 contract attorneys for document work, some related to pharmaceutical litigation. Although some of the litigation is ongoing, the document-heavy phase has passed, said Eckert Seamans partner Timothy Coon. This year, the firm reduced the number of temporary lawyers to 86, a decline that he said reflects the flexibility of the arrangement. Those in the temporary-worker pool at Eckert Seamans ranged from recently licensed attorneys to lawyers with several years of experience who liked the freedom of choosing when they wanted to work, Coon said. He added that using contract lawyers enables his firm to hand off some of the more unwelcome tasks. “Some of it is the kind of work that might be pushed down on to first-, second- or third-year associates who don’t want to do that,” he said. The integration issue But as firms pull in more temporary lawyers, they are realizing that it takes much more than clearing off a desk and dusting off a phone to accommodate these attorneys. “Each firm has its own philosophy on how to integrate,” said Charles Volkert, executive director of Robert Half Legal, a staffing company. Some firms host lunches and team-building activities, he said, while others are less hands-on, especially if the contract attorneys have plenty of experience. David Kinzer, who worked as a contract attorney at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Jones Day and other large firms for about two years before taking a position last year as a staff attorney with Ober Kaler in Baltimore, said he saw a wide variety of integration approaches. Kinzer started doing contract work when business at his solo practice dropped off after the 9-11 terror attacks. Contract work was a temporary move for him that “filled a gap” in his career, he said. He added that he liked the flexibility it afforded. The average pay rate equaled about $40 per hour, he said. He also liked having the chance to “build relationships” while working at a top firm. He said that once he and a firm established a mutually satisfying relationship, it would then hire him for other projects. Still, not all of his assignments were enjoyable. “At some firms, you’re treated just like members of the permanent staff. At other firms, you’re just a warm body to crank out documents,” Kinzer said. He explained that some practices will allocate separate offices and support staff for temporary workers while others are “meat factories” that put several workers in one room. And those rooms could become more crowded. The cost of recovering electronic data created $832.5 million in revenues last year, according to Socha Consulting, a legal electronic discovery consultancy in St. Paul, Minn. The company expects the electronic discovery market to grow to almost $2.9 billion by 2007. Part of the corollary growth in the contract-attorney market will come from law firms in the Southeast and Midwest, said Volkert, with Robert Half Legal. Historically a staffing strategy for big New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles firms, hiring temporary attorneys is likely to gain popularity among firms, both big and midsized, in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and other locations, he said. With all that data to analyze, finding a place where contract attorneys can spread out and peruse documents has become its own separate challenge for law firms, said Singer, the staffing executive. Firms have grown tired of devoting conference rooms and other precious space to document review projects, he said. “These rooms become war rooms,” Singer said, adding that his company provides the space for contract lawyers to work, if the firm it is contracted with wants it.

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