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Temporary lawyering appears to be on the upswing, according to lawyers at several temp agencies in the New York area. Such a trend might well signal a return to flusher economic times, at least in terms of permanent employment opportunities for younger attorneys. Law firms do test the waters before adding personnel. That much is agreed upon — or hoped for. As for temp life itself, meanwhile, few people have neutral opinions. For young lawyers adversely affected by thin hiring periods or delayed starting dates or layoffs couched in other terms — or in some cases, for associates weary of long and pressure-filled hours at large firms — the prospect of temping begs a large question: How do you cope with the hyper-hierarchy of the legal profession? “It’s a stigma to be a temp,” said a 30-year-old attorney currently ensconced, and happily so, at a major Manhattan firm. “The money is enticing,” he said of his former life as a temp. “But you’re a dime a dozen.” Not so nowadays, countered Arnold G. Schlanger, a veteran lawyer and president of Peak Counsel Inc., one of several New York agencies that broker permanent and temporary jobs for attorneys. “The stigma of temp work that might have existed 10 years ago is no longer there,” said Schlanger. “Certainly not during the past three or four years.” “I would definitely agree with that,” said Josh Schott, president of Update Legal, a competing agency. He took some exception, however, to Schlanger’s view, shared by others, that demand is markedly up for temp lawyers. “It’s been sort of a bouncing trend this year for us, with some very good months and then some bad months.” As for the quality of today’s crop of temps, “There are some very talented people being downsized right now,” said Jane Gowen, Update’s executive vice president. “That’s the negative, but the positive is there’s a much higher caliber of contract attorney available now.” Perhaps, too, a higher caliber of assignments for temp lawyers. “There was a time when major law firms would check references [of potential temps] by looking to their last permanent position,” said Schlanger. “But today, they’re looking to temp assignment references, which suggests that meaningful work is being done in this area.” Rifat Harb, who worked for several years as a temp as he built up his now-thriving solo practice in Queens, said of the earlier days, “I saw a lot of disgruntled [temps] who didn’t have an end in their mind. The mentality of so many people I worked with was like inmates wanting to get out of jail. “But that’s silly because the money is pretty good,” said Harb, 34, a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law. “I mean, you can easily make a thousand dollars a week for doing nothing, really. Document review, you know? Bates stamping? Photocopying? I hate to be cynical, but sometimes temping is a way for law firms to get small tasks done and yet bill the client a lot of money.” HOURLY RATES Nowadays, according to agencies polled, the typical hourly rates for temp attorneys range from $20 for scut work assigned to very junior lawyers to about $125 for complex litigation and bankruptcy matters — and increasingly, according to Schlanger, transactional assignments — given to young attorneys who often have as much as seven years’ experience. Still, the 30-year-old large-firm attorney and former temp complained. Vacation time and group health insurance available through temp agencies, he said, leaves much to be desired. However, Harb said, “temporary” means just that. “I think I used temping the way it’s supposed to be used — for the flexible hours and for the money,” said Harb. “I was never interested in a job with a big firm. I always wanted my own practice. So I set up my little office and I’d meet my own clients during lunch hour or after work. This was perfect. I was totally up front about it with the firms where I worked, and everybody was supportive. Everybody understood I would be there for a limited time.” UPBEAT OUTLOOK Likewise, Julie Cardona Young has an upbeat outlook on a work environment that has its share of downbeat ego traps, what with the subtle stings of hierarchy always lurking. Since June of last year, Young has worked as an asbestos litigation case manager at Edwards & Angell. She is part of a seven-member team that includes two other temp lawyers and two temporary paralegals. She has continued at Edwards & Angell in part because “we’re treated like permanent attorneys,” said Young, 31, a graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “If you’re someone who wants to be a partner at a firm, though, temping isn’t going to work out for you. On the other hand, with temping you have time to pursue other strong interests,” she said. “I do yoga every day, which takes time, and I write every morning, which takes even more time. “There are a lot of creative types who are posing as lawyers by day,” said Young, formerly a commercial litigation associate at New York’s Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett who went on to work as a staff attorney at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services for more than a year. “Temping is good for people who don’t necessarily know if they want to be lawyers for the rest of their lives.” SEARCH FOR FULFILLMENT Along with Schlanger, Jay B. Horowitz agreed that the search for personal fulfillment beyond the law seems to be on the minds of many young lawyers that their respective agencies interview as temp candidates. “I think 9/11 increased the number of candidates looking for more meaning in their lives,” said Horowitz, CEO of Strategic Legal Solutions. Before founding his agency in 1995, Horowitz was a real estate attorney at New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. “In fact,” he added, “I just met with a mid-level attorney who’s leaving a prominent firm as a real estate lawyer. She wants to take a few months off to put her life in order, then temp through us, then maybe become [full-time] again, or maybe do something more philanthropic with her life.” Among Young’s quest for meaning during her morning writing devotionals was her own return to Edwards & Angells the day before the terrorist attacks of Tuesday, Sept. 11. The return followed her August wedding at Windows on the World, among the last events at the now demised landmark restaurant atop the World Trade Center. “It’s been extremely difficult for me after 9/11. It’s still unsettling to look at the skyline.” Of her wedding planner, an employee of the restaurant, she added, “Thank God he’s OK.” Young has written an article about a wedding touched by terrorism — “I feel guilty for having had such a good time at Windows on the World” — and is now in search of a publisher. Of such searching for meaning, Schlanger said, “Young people today don’t see their first job out of law school as being a cradle-to-grave proposition. They have other priorities. When I went to law school, we put those on the back burner.” For all his disillusionment, the anonymous large-firm attorney would suggest to young temp lawyers — or those who might enter the life — that the best way to soothe a lawyerly ego is to move pursuits outside the law to the front burner. “You overcome stigma by who you are, by your interests,” said the anonymous attorney. “By explaining that you’re not really sure where you’re going in life — and so what.”

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