The giant New York City based law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP is being sued by a contract attorney for potential overtime pay.
The plaintiff, David Lola, was hired by a legal staffing agency to work on Skadden case, reviewing documents for $25 an hour. Lola believes that the work he did was too simplis-tic to qualify as law practices, and therefore should not be included under the federal la-bor laws, preventing licensed lawyers from earning overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week.
The outcome of this case will have great expansive implications. If Lola wins, it will pave the way for contract lawyers to demand higher wages for reviewing documents during the initial phases of investigations and litigation.
Lola’s case is being used by contract attorneys to attempt to raise awareness of document reviewer’s allegedly unfair working conditions. In addition to Lola’s case, his lawyer, D. Maimon Kirschenbaum, has another pending case involving attorney overtime.
Many members of the United Contract Attorneys, a group formed to fight for the rights of document reviewers, were in attendance for the arguments on Friday, May 29. Valeria Gheorghiu, one of the group’s members and a workers’ rights lawyer who was after incur-ring an injury began doing foreign-language document review in 2012, described on Sat-urday the harsh and overcrowded working environments that contract lawyers are sub-jected to.
She said, “We should be treated as working professionals.” The Wall Street Journal re-ported Gheorghiu stating that the system can be “demoralizing” as it currently exists, es-pecially for the recent law school graduates who are weighed down with debt that be-come trapped doing contract attorney jobs continuously.
The average pay of these positions is $25 to $30 an hour with no benefits, which is in-credibly less than the starting salaries for most junior lawyers that is around $160,000 an-nually.
In July 2013, Lola sued Skadden and Tower Legal Solutions, a legal staffing agency, in New York federal court. His suit asserts that he is owed overtime pay for the additional
hours that he had spent on a document-review assignment in North Carolina. Lola said that his job entailed sorting documents into categories using predetermined search terms with the assistance of computer prompts.
The suit states, “The legal services industry has for years been exploiting individuals with law degrees looking for short-term work.”
In September the case was dismissed by a district court judge, who ruled that under North Carolina guidelines, the work Lola did qualified as practicing law. In New York, U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan wrote in the decision, “As junior associates at law firms well know, [tasks like confirming citations and looking for typos] are the bread and butter of much legal practice.”
On Friday, Lola appealed, and a three-judge panel in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides. According to the Wall Street Journal’s report, the appellate panel seemed sympathetic to Lola’s case.