“McDermott, Will & Emery plans to create a new tier of attorneys — think of them as permanent contract associates — to handle lower-end tasks at lower billing rates.” 

So reports McDermott Will to Add Lower-Paid Associates (The Recorder, 11/2/07). A big focus of these new attorneys will be document review. I am all for any step a large law firm can take that reduces legal costs. Some comments on three points in the article:

1. “While hiring contract attorneys is nothing new, creating a second class of full-timers is.” Fact checking please! Look back two decades: Law Firms Add Second Tier (New York Times, March 11, 1987) reports on Jones Day hiring “staff attorneys.” Or just one year ago, read in sibling ALM publication American Lawyer, Temporary Lawyer (Sep 06), “Some [large firms], like Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Sullivan & Cromwell, have created a new category of full-time attorneys outside the associate track to handle document review in place of temps.”

2. The new McDermott Will attorneys will “put in more like 30 to 40 hours and be paid something like 25 percent less, though an exact pay range hasn’t been decided.” Work what sounds like 1/3 to 1/2 the hours as many associates for 25% less… will some associates want “down grades?”

3. A Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges partner is quoted on the alternative of conducting reviews offshore: “In high-stakes litigation, it would be giving up too much control. A document that might seem harmless might be the key to victory, and we’d be really fearful that sort of thing would be missed.” As I’ve written many times (see, e.g., Onshore v Offshore Pivot Point – Part II (9/13/06)), this is an empirical question. Lawyers assume – usually without evidence – that whatever they are doing now works and works well. In my experience, US document reviews have fewer controls and QC processes than those conducted offshore.