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Document Coding, a legal occupation similar to that of paralegal, offers an entry level glimpse into the fast paced, exciting world of the law.

Uh huh.

Three months ago my doctor put me in touch with his daughter, a legal agency recruiter. Out of work six months and $18 shy of overdraft, I jumped at the chance. She offered little more than a background sketch consisting of mumbled promises of good pay and reimbursed dinners. Three days later I indentured myself for three months.

Unlike paralegals, who assist in drafting and collating documents, document coders compact neverending reams of evidence into database abstracts. Sometimes a bit of variety is thrown in, such as separating documents into "families" of related topics or preparing new data entry fields. Most days revolve around the same twenty shysters scheming their way towards the next corporate scandal.

While paralegals control some aspect of the evidence gathering process, coders merely regurgitate text for paralegals to sort again. As intermediaries in a circular production process, document coders churn out data mostly discarded after a glance. Discouraging, yes, but helpful -- the coder's task saves legal assistants the impossible task of scanning each and every document for information.

The rub? I never knew what time I would depart work. Some days we coders would work a 4 hour shift, other times strings of 12 hour days stretched over a few weeks. Living single, I wondered about the family men and women working on the case. Transformed into a sleepless wreck, I munched on energy bars and snuggled up with the coffee carafe. Yet each evening I bellied up to the cafeteria rail in solemn anticipation. Where else could I eat a lobster scampi dinner for free?

Document coding, although in itself tedious, offers a glimpse into both the secret lives of corrupt captains of industry as well as the insomniac world of corporate law. Three months of sunlight deprivation and sleepless nights? I'll pass.

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