Career Corner—Advice and Resources for Alumni
Updated FAQs on Temporary Legal Work and Staffing Agencies
Some tips on doing temp work while you wait for bar results, job-hunt, et cetera
TEMPORARY LEGAL SERVICES/STAFFING COMPANIES
Virtually every legal newspaper and website has advertisements for temporary legal staffing agencies. If your situation is such that you aren’t finding or can’t commit to a long-term employment relationship, this might be an option for you. Also see the FAQs on the Career Services site on Contract Legal Work which has some overlap with these FAQs. Contact Alumni Career Services for more information.
Where do I find temporary placement agencies for lawyers?
See CDO website for a partial listing of temporary placement agencies for legal work.
Is there an advantage or disadvantage to signing up with multiple agencies?
Spreading your net widely is generally a good idea. The only downside would be if you have multiple assignments or offers of assignments in which case you need to manage the relationship with both agencies so that neither of them begins to put less effort into placing you based on your lack of availability.
Is there any real difference between agencies? What should I look for?
From the candidate’s perspective the most important consideration in choosing between agencies is the number and quality of job opportunities. The first criterion is self-explanatory – your only reason for working with the agency is to get work and if they aren’t able to provide it you obviously keep looking for another source of work. Larger agencies may have a higher volume of jobs but smaller organizations may have niche markets which are relevant to your particular background. Some staffing agencies have niches as providers of experienced temporary legal staffing – they may pay more but will only be interested in lawyers who have experience doing document review or other contract work.
It’s also important to work with an agency you have confidence in and a high level of trust – in particular you want to make sure that the agency does not submit your resume for consideration at any employer without your express permission – that could cost you a job opportunity if the employer prefers to recruit on their own to avoid paying the agency’s placement commission.
Some staffing agencies also provide placement services or engage in “direct hire” relationships where their customer hires on attorneys working for the customer through the agency.
Particularly in recent years there is an increasing number of “alternative” or “virtual” law firms like Paragon Legal, Axiom Law or Rimon Law Group which operate more like law firms but have more flexible arrangements for their attorneys who may work from home or on-site at the client’s offices and may work less than a 40 hour workweek. These firms generally have jobs for more experienced attorneys (8+ years/partner level).
Does my background matter in terms of opportunities for temp work?
Agencies place temporary workers based on the demands of their clients. Clients (law firms or companies, rarely large nonprofits or government) often want attorneys who have experience with the type of work they need performed and sometimes only want licensed attorneys. When agencies screen temporary job candidates they look for a background and impression of professionalism which indicate you would fit in at the firm or work location. As a tip, dress and treat your meeting with a recruiter like a “real’ job interview. Previous work as a paralegal or within a corporate law office is a plus though not a requirement. Infrequently agencies will have work for nonprofits which may be favorably impressed by community service work on your resume especially if it aligns with the organization’s mission.
How do I handle going on interviews while on assignment?
Agencies will expect this to happen and generally will work with you. A good move is to be very professional and proactive in giving maximum advance notice to both the manager at the job site where you are working and your contact at the placement agency.
What does temp work pay? Can I negotiate my pay for temp work?
Realistically, right now is a buyer’s market for employers and employment agencies so hourly rates are low and you won’t have much leverage to negotiate in most situations. For a recent graduate new to doing document review, pay may be in the range of $20 - $35/hour. Factors that may influence getting a higher hourly rate are experience doing the kind of project that is being contracted out – generally document review – or having a language proficiency which is required, ex; Mandarin. The things you can do to improve your bargaining position for a higher rate are to make sure the agency is aware of all your skills/experience and to continually build those skills and update your resume. Some of the larger agencies provide their contractors access to online learning classes which is a great way to keep improving your skill set.
Do any temp agencies provide health benefits?
Yes, the larger agencies at least provide health benefits though these are usually for longer-term employees, i.e. those who have worked with them a certain number of hours over a specified period. If you are contemplating doing temp work for an extended period, a few months, it is good to look at the differing policies of agencies.
Are there agencies or temp assignments which allow you to work from home?
Few agencies will allow this for relatively recent grads right away, but may consider it once you’ve established yourself with them. For more experienced graduates working through alternative law firms or organizations, working from a home office may be expected.
Will doing temporary contract work hurt my chances of getting a permanent job? How should I mention it on my resume?
Hard question: certainly doing document review isn’t a big plus for your resume, especially if you don’t have other more substantive experience to balance it out, but it isn’t fatal for your chances of eventually finding satisfying permanent work. If you are doing work which is out of your preferred area either substantively or in terms of complexity or responsibility, there is more of an onus on you to show your interest and qualifications for a permanent job by also doing volunteer work, writing articles or doing other activities which show your abilities and continued interest notwithstanding your temporary work. Unfortunately in this market there will be many attorneys who are doing work for which they are overqualified. Taking a detour on your career by doing temporary work is humbling and difficult but ultimately survivable.
In terms of how you present temporary work on your resume, first, have a separate resume for temporary/contract attorney jobs highlighting relevant temp or contract experience, and another one for your search for full-time work. For the latter you want to play up all the information on the resume which would be interesting and compelling for that employer rather than giving more space to the work which is most recent but less relevant. As much as possible try describing your temp work in a way which emphasizes valuable skills or experience and downplays less relevant experience without being misleading. This is a good place to talk to a career counselor or at least run your resume by other lawyers who can give you good feedback.