eDiscovery Daily Blog

Should Contract Review Attorneys Receive Overtime Pay?: eDiscovery Trends

Whether they should or not, maybe they can – if they’re found NOT to be practicing law, according to a ruling from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to a story in The Posse List (Contract attorney lawsuit against Skadden Arps can proceed, appeals court says; case could enable temporary lawyers hired for routine document review to earn extra wages), the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the matter for further proceedings, ruling that a lawsuit demanding overtime pay from law firm Skadden, Arps and legal staffing agency Tower Legal Solutions can proceed.

The plaintiff, David Lola, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, filed the case as a Fair Labor Standards Act collective action against Skadden, Arps and Tower Legal Staffing.  He alleged that, beginning in April 2012, he worked for the defendants for fifteen months in North Carolina, working 45 to 55 hours per week and was paid $25 per hour. He conducted document review for Skadden in connection with a multi-district litigation pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Lola is an attorney licensed to practice law in California, but he is not admitted to practice law in either North Carolina or the Northern District of Ohio.

According to the ruling issued by the appellate court, “Lola alleged that his work was closely supervised by the Defendants, and his entire responsibility . . . consisted of (a) looking at documents to see what search terms, if any, appeared in the documents, (b) marking those documents into the categories predetermined by Defendants, and (c) at times drawing black boxes to redact portions of certain documents based on specific protocols that Defendants provided.’  Lola also alleged that Defendants provided him with the documents he reviewed, the search terms he was to use in connection with those documents, and the procedures he was to follow if the search terms appeared.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Lola was exempt from FLSA’s overtime rules because he was a licensed attorney engaged in the practice of law. The district court granted the motion, finding (1) state, not federal, standards applied in determining whether an attorney was practicing law under FLSA; (2) North Carolina had the greatest interest in the outcome of the litigation, thus North Carolina’s law should apply; and (3) Lola was engaged in the practice of law as defined by North Carolina law, and was therefore an exempt employee under FLSA.”

While the appellate court agreed with the first two points, it disagreed with the third.  In vacating the judgment of the district court and remanding the matter for further proceedings, the appellate court stated in its ruling:

“The gravamen of Lola’s complaint is that he performed document review under such tight constraints that he exercised no legal judgment whatsoever—he alleges that he used criteria developed by others to simply sort documents into different categories. Accepting those allegations as true, as we must on a motion to dismiss, we find that Lola adequately alleged in his complaint that he failed to exercise any legal judgment in performing his duties for Defendants. A fair reading of the complaint in the light most favorable to Lola is that he provided services that a machine could have provided.”

A link to the appeals court ruling, also available in the article in The Posse List, can be found here.

So, what do you think?  Are document reviewers practicing law?  If not, should they be entitled to overtime pay?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.