eDiscovery Daily Blog

Two Cases Regarding Overtime Pay for Contract Attorneys with Mixed Results: eDiscovery Trends

Last July, we covered a case where a contract review attorney filed a lawsuit demanding overtime pay from law firm Skadden, Arps and legal staffing agency Tower Legal Solutions, alleging that the highly managed review work that he performed should not be considered the practice of law because he was not required to exercise any legal judgment.  That case and one other have concluded (pending appeal) with mixed results.

In the first case, 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 for document review.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing (among other things) that Lola was engaged in the practice of law as defined by North Carolina law, and was therefore an exempt employee under FLSA.  The district court granted the motion, but the appellate court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the matter for further proceedings, stating that “we find that Lola adequately alleged in his complaint that he failed to exercise any legal judgment in performing his duties for Defendants”.

Last month, the parties settled their lawsuit for a fraction of their “maximum liquidated damages,” according to a letter the plaintiff’s attorney (D. Maimon Kirschenbaum) wrote to the judge.  Tower paid $75,000 according to a settlement agreement that was attached to the letter, filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan last month.  So, the plaintiffs received at least some compensation in this case.

In the other case, a Federal judge ruled that William Henig, a lawyer doing document review work for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan (and represented by the same plaintiff’s attorney – Kirschenbaum – as the Lola case) wasn’t entitled to overtime pay because he was using legal judgment.

Henig had claimed he did not exercise legal judgment while reviewing about 13,000 documents for about two months in 2012 (making $35 an hour) while working as a temporary contract lawyer for Quinn Emanuel to determine relevance to a discovery request.  In making his ruling, Southern District Judge Ronnie Abrams stated “Not all of [mass document review] is law at its grandest but all of it is the practice of law. Mr. Henig was engaged in that practice.”  We’ll see if Henig chooses to appeal and has any success (like Lola did).  As for plaintiff’s attorney Kirschenbaum, you win some, you lose some… :o)

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.