This Bill of Rights and Demands (BORD) is an aspirational document collectively drafted by contract attorneys beginning in the spring of 2014.* It provides context to illuminate our need to assert our rights and demands. As it is a living document, we continue to seek contract attorneys’ feedback to help it inspire, guide and galvanize us to improve our collective working conditions and maintain the standards of our profession.
UNITED CONTRACT ATTORNEYS
BILL OF RIGHTS AND DEMANDS
WE, ATTORNEY CONTRACTORS, by selection and by circumstance, for livelihood and legitimacy, immediately and indefinitely, laboring with the authority of our law degrees and bar admissions, subject to the obligations and high standards of our jurisdictional requirements, and meeting the fundamental professional demands of client confidentiality and ethical duties, rightfully insist upon the commensurate earnings, benefits, and simple dignity that befit our occupation, and hereby establish these basic rights and expectations for the performance of our work.
FIRST AND FOREMOST, WE HEREBY ASSERT THE RIGHTS TO COLLECTIVELY BARGAIN, CONTRACT AND BE FREE FROM RETALIATION:
WE HAVE THE RIGHT to form associations with other contract attorneys in order to seek increased wages, improved benefits, better working conditions and job security.
WE HAVE THE RIGHT to negotiate the terms and conditions of our employment, either individually or as part of an association if we choose to do so.
WE HAVE THE RIGHT to seek and negotiate contracts governing any and all short or long-term assignments that clearly reflect the expected duration of employment. In the absence of such contracts and the security they would provide, we shall be free to terminate our work on a project upon providing reasonable notice.
AND, WE HAVE THE RIGHT to assert our rights outlined herein free from the fear of any form of retaliation, including “blacklisting” by any agency due to our individual or collective efforts to seek better wages or working conditions or set the terms and durational limits of our own employment.
I) THE RIGHTS TO ASSOCIATE EARNINGS, REASONABLE PAY SCHEDULE AND ETHICAL PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS PRACTICES
WHEREAS, in an age of a service- and contract- based economy, all workers participate in an organization's success and must be compensated for their part of that success,
WHEREAS we are often tasked with a basic yet critically important activity in litigation, document review, which has historically been performed by associates of law firms,
WHEREAS associates performing these duties may obtain an hourly rate well below the billable rate for performing these duties, they still receive a disproportionately higher pay rate, especially in light of those associates’ greater job security, benefits and increased earning opportunities,
WHEREAS this disparity in rates of pay to the attorney contractor along with the itinerant, inconstant working life, lower-income ceilings, carrying the same or even greater costs of practice including student loan debt, and unsanitary if not outright illegal space and safety conditions combine to create a sense of injustice and insecurity that fosters unhealthy social and even occasionally professional pathologies that undermine the moral foundations of the legal profession and society at large, contributing to the disappearing middle class,
WHEREAS wages ten years ago were an average of $45 an hour with overtime, and have declined precipitously to $30 an hour, often $25 and sometimes $15, with no overtime,
WHEREAS law school admissions has increased over decades and the cost of tuition has multiplied exponentially, creating a surplus of attorneys with extreme student loan debt that is predicated on the assumption of high-salaried jobs, but which is unjustified by the reality of limited demand and a lack of available positions,
WE, UNITED CONTRACT ATTORNEYS, DEMAND to be paid commensurate with the starting salary of first-year associates at the firms for whom we work, divided into hourly wages for a 2,100-hour billable year, and further DEMAND to be paid overtime wages after 40 hours as required by law.
WE DEMAND an end to the decline in wages, and that hourly wages and overtime rates shall be adjusted annually commensurate with the increase of the cost of living.
WE DEMAND the dignity of knowing that our wages shall be billed out to clients at the first year billable rate in keeping with ethical professional business practices, not as senior associates at $500 to $1,000 an hour.
WE DEMAND more transparency in billing practices, that of both the firms and the agencies, to ensure collective bargaining power and ethical professional business practices.
FURTHERMORE, WE DEMAND to be paid weekly and in a timely manner, given the intermittent and temporary nature of our work, and because many of us live paycheck to paycheck and need to pay our bills on time.
II) THE RIGHT TO DIGNITY AND PROFESSIONAL AUTONOMY
WHEREAS, we live in an age of instant communication and complex lifestyles, and such simple needs as telephone and electronic communication, child care, doctor and other professional appointments, maintenance of mind and body, possession and use of reasonable personal devices, and other essentials that are the fundamental domain of a rich and well-balanced life must be taken as granted, and,
WHEREAS, many of us work several short projects in a row to maintain our livelihoods and it is not reasonable, nor representative of our professional character, to keep cancelling appointments,
THEREFORE, WE DEMAND that all licensed professionals are to be entrusted with the command and control over their own work-life balance with respect to individual freedoms and personal privacy, including responsibility for actions and behaviors and the regular management of schedules both inside and outside the office.
WE DEMAND to be given professional deference to organize and coordinate the overlapping and competing demands and responsibilities of our work lives and our personal lives, even during the start of a project, without being asked to clear our calendars for the duration of the project. We shall feel free to disclose our vacation plans up-front without fear of losing the project, and in keeping with a civil professional relationship with our multiple employers.
Such autonomy also involves personal choices and decisions over whether and when to work hours in excess of a standard work week. As with basic wages, an attorney contractor lacking both job security and advancement opportunities is not incentivized to make personal sacrifices for an employer of limited and unknown duration. Therefore, excess hours can only be requested and never required, and must be incentivized if their fulfillment is expected.
WE DEMAND the right to honest estimations of the length of a potential project, in consideration of our need to plan financially and choose the best project available to us. And if a project extends beyond the initially contracted time, we shall have the freedom to choose whether to continue without fear of retaliation with respect to future projects.
WE DEMAND that our belongings and personal devices shall remain within our vicinity, and not locked away, as we are granted an implicit and professional trust that we have already earned and proven when our characters were tested upon admission to the Bar, including especially, the requirement to maintain attorney client confidentiality.
WE HAVE THE RIGHT to be treated like equal members of the Bar, (or aspirants thereof if applicable) with all the privileges and expectations of respect and trust this esteemed association brings. This includes maintaining our ethical and professional standards while conducting our work, and feeling free to raise our concerns without fear of retaliation or blacklisting.
THUS, WE DEMAND that the practice of blacklisting for asserting one’s rights or maintaining a professional work relationship as detailed above shall immediately cease.
III) THE RIGHT TO UNIVERSAL BENEFITS CONTRIBUTIONS
WHEREAS in an age of virtual and social networking, all licensed professionals are entitled to universal, transferable benefits with contributions to be made by their individual and collective employers.
THEREFORE, WE ASPIRE to benefit from a centralized service, with proportional contributions by employers, for the following basic benefits:
Automatic pay for all employer recognized holidays
Cumulative allowances for sick days, personal days, and vacation time
Retirement accounts, including 401Ks and IRAs
Group health insurance enrollment opportunities for ourselves and our families to compete with the options available through the state and federal exchanges under the ACA
Group life insurance enrollment opportunities to provide security for our families in our absence
IV) THE RIGHT TO A PROFESSIONAL WORKSPACE
WHEREAS in an age of digital “e-documents” there is neither reason nor need for attorneys to work in warehouse conditions. Recognizing that long past are days when younger associates were required to leave their offices and travel “off-site” to a client’s record-keeping facilities where paper files were transferred for archival storage with infrequent access and review,
WE, UNITED CONTRACT ATTORNEYS, HAVE THE RIGHT TO office facilities meeting the most basic professional standards -- and building codes -- including, but not limited to:
A clean and sanitary workplace free of bugs and vermin
Computers and desk areas sanitized by staff between individual users, or available adequate cleaning supplies for individual sanitizing by the professional worker
A desk area with a reasonable circumference of space, including a distance of no less than five feet from the nearest co-worker
Access to clean bathroom facilities, which are adequately stocked, and with enough toilets to sufficiently meet the legally required proportion per gender
AND, we shall be trusted to take reasonable short breaks from sitting as necessary to maintain productivity and physical health during long work day.
FURTHERMORE, WE HAVE THE RIGHT to be treated in a professional manner, with respect and dignity, without being chastised in front of peers.
THIS INCLUDES THE RIGHT TO REASONABLE FREE SPEECH AT THE WORKPLACE, with our neighbors or colleagues, whether work related or of a reasonable though professionally limited personal nature, as naturally arises at most workplaces, founded on a human need for social interaction and essential to build effective working relationships with colleagues founded on trust and respect.
TO THIS END, WE SHALL: EXERCISE OUR FREE RIGHT OF ASSOCIATION; ORGANIZE; AND COLLECTIVELY WORK TO IMPROVE OUR WORKING CONDITIONS UNTIL WE ACHIEVE THESE STANDARDS ABOVE.
*This document was reviewed by 12 or more contract attorneys at an open meeting roundtable session on April 7, 2014. Contract attorneys were asked to prioritize their top five issues, and provide general feedback. The rankings and feedback were recorded into minutes, tabulated and ultimately integrated into the document. In the Spring of 2015, the current operating steering committee reviewed and edited the BORD once more for clarity and to update it with new rights based on current working conditions. Finally, it was submitted to a professional editor before posting it online.