Now that quite a few law firms have figured out that it’s cheaper to temp out all the time-consuming pretrial discovery tasks, the question inevitably arises: Is this the best practice?

Temporary legal staffing is the fastest-growing segment of the staffing industry, at least over the long term since 1997, according to a recent report by Staffing Industry Analysts.

Six firms, including Robert Half, Spherion and Adecco, make up a significant portion of the $1.5 billion market for temporary or contract legal help.

A case that’s shaping up to be a milestone in the growth of the segment involves McDermott Will & Emery LLP, the mega law firm with 17 offices and more than 1,000 attorneys worldwide, and at least by extension its staffing firm Hudson Legal.

The drama began in 2006 when client J-M Manufacturing hired McDermott to help gather and submit documents to the state of California as part of a whistleblower lawsuit.

Now, J-M has filed a legal misconduct lawsuit in California state court to include McDermott itself as a defendant.

A recent amendment to the suit states that McDermott’s contract lawyers "negligently performed limited spot-checking of the contract attorneys' work."

“McDermott didn't properly supervise the contract lawyers and failed to thoroughly review the documents," it says, to "determine whether any or a large number of privilege documents were being disclosed."

The upshot is that about 3,900 documents related to the original suit seem to be missing. J-M believes that the temp lawyers mistakenly submitted them to the prosecution. Whoops.

However, it’s interesting that neither J-M nor McDermott nor the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles seem to know for sure what the missing documents contain. This is despite J-M’s claim that along with the contract legal help, the law firm had retained two third-party electronic discovery vendors to sort out relevant documents by keyword search.

A mildly disturbing claim made by J-M is that McDermott billed the company at up to $925 an hour, while Hudson Legal allegedly invoiced McDermott at only $61 per hour.

It remains to be seen whether the outcome of this case will be an indictment of the temporary legal staffing practice. For now, it seems just as likely that it will devolve into a void where there’s just too much paperwork in too many places for it ever to be fully resolved.

For its part, Hudson Legal, part of Hudson Highland Group, Inc., New York, NY, has preferred to stay out of the spotlight. The legal staffing and discovery consulting firm with 11 locations across the U.S. is not named in the lawsuit.

Tags: Industry, Los Angeles, Staffing Industry Analysts, CA US Attorney, Contract Lawyers, Hudson Highland Group, Hudson Legal, JM Eagle, JM Manufacturing, McDermott Will Emery, Temp Lawyers, Temporary legal staffing