How attorneys' work is deprofessionalized, downgraded, and controlled through part-time and temporary assignments
Cheaper by the Hour
Temporary Lawyers and the Deprofessionalization of the Law
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Robert A. Brooks
Recent law school graduates often work as temporary attorneys, but law firm layoffs and downsizing have strengthened the temporary attorney industry. Cheaper by the Hour is the first book-length account of these workers.
Drawing from participant observation and interviews, Robert A. Brooks provides a richly detailed ethnographic account of freelance attorneys in Washington, DC. He places their document review work in the larger context of the deprofessionalization of skilled labor and considers how professionals relegated to temporary jobs feel diminished, degraded, or demeaned by work that is often tedious, repetitive, and well beneath their abilities.
Brooks documents how firms break a lawyer's work into discrete components that require less skill to realize maximum profits. Moreover, he argues that information technology and efficiency demands are further stratifying the profession and creating a new underclass of lawyers who do low-end commodity work.
"Law schools paint bright illusions of their graduates’ earnings potential. This book is the reality. Nowhere near courtrooms or plush offices labor an exploited, minimally paid underclass of lawyers in a Dickens-meets-Dilbert world of 'document review,' in which professionals with advanced degrees live tenuous existences sorting documents into categories, work that ninth graders could accomplish and with nothing lawyerly about it.... Brooks presents a firsthand account of his own experiences and interviews coworkers in these dead-end jobs with no benefits, no chance for promotion, and no possibility to even act as a lawyer. It’s a scary world showing that nobody has any security. VERDICT Would-be law students must read this look at the profession’s dark underbelly... this is essential for law school libraries and a good purchase for comprehensive labor collections and large public library systems, as well."
"[A]n engaging portrait of the world of lawyers who are hired on a temporary basis.... The book is valuable in portraying the feelings of disaffection and despair experienced by temporary lawyers. Those lawyers experience a crippling gap between their career aspirations and career prospects. Cheaper by the Hour examines a part of the legal profession that has never before been subject to scrutiny in a systematic and theoretically informed way. Summing Up: Recommended."
"Brooks’s account is timely...A key contribution...is that he brings to life the work lives of temporary lawyers doing document review....Cheaper by the Hour provides a window into the world of temporary lawyers. [T]his book raises a series of questions on how outsourcing by law firms and other professional service firms can be better managed and made more satisfying for those individuals who are the human side of outsourcing."
"Brooks offers us an uncommon examination of professional work from the inside.... [T]he book is engaging to read, makes good use of the data, and raises important questions about the future directions of professional work. The book should be of significant interest to anyone studying the changing nature of work, and certainly to anyone considering a law career."
"[A]n illuminating and sobering look at the law’s version of the temporary employment industry.... Cheaper by the Hour should prove instructive for anyone concerned about the short- or long-term future of the U.S. legal profession, and the title is recommended for all libraries that serve law firms or law schools. The book may also provide a sharp but valuable dose of reality for undergraduate students considering legal education and the debt load that it can entail."
"The strength of this book is the author’s participation in the settings he describes.... As one of a number of studies of workers in nonstandard work arrangements, this book adds to accumulating evidence pointing to a need for new policies and practices to address the various segments of a sizable 'contingent' workforce. Placed in this context, this study should further inform both analysts and advocates for change."
"[A] sobering examination of the legal profession.... Brooks paints a chilling portrait of the ways in which [document review] becomes dehumanizing for the attorneys.... Cheaper by the Hour does an admirable job of revealing the stratification within law firms and within the legal profession....Brooks’ use of participant observation and interviewing offers a compelling ethnographic study of the work experiences of temporary attorneys."
"[An] engaging ethnography of temporary lawyers.... Cheaper by the Houris well written, shows considerable knowledge of the legal profession and debates in the sociological literature about the occupational fate of lawyers, and sheds light on the understudied resistance of lawyers to their work. Students of the professions and those interested in contingent work, as well as the labor process, will find it thought-provoking."
Robert A. Brooks is Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of Criminal Justice at Worcester State University in Massachusetts.