Today we have a story of a contract attorney who made good — well, a contract attorney who got a permanent position. That position was called “staff attorney” and he still had to review documents, but now with health insurance.
But what happens when that staff attorney feels like he is on the losing end of favoritism, finds himself passed over for promotions, and eventually gets fired? You get employment litigation.
Which firm finds itself defending against a document-reviewer-cum-staff attorney’s claims of age discrimination?
It is none other than BuckleySandler. The high-powered firm, focused on financial services, is young but growing rapidly, with a headcount of almost 150 lawyers (which it continues to expand with high-profile hires). In the latest Am Law 200 rankings, the firm posted profits per partner of $1.8 million for 2012, up 8.1 percent from 2011.
The 50-page, pro se Complaint reads like an accounting of every slight that plaintiff Matt Ryan ever received (or perceived) during his time at the firm. Whether this all adds up to a claim for age discrimination remains to be seen, but it still provides an interesting glimpse into the world of a document reviewer. The lawsuit, which we heard about from multiple sources, has been making the rounds in contractor circles.
Before we get too far into the allegations, here is the firm’s statement on the case:
The Firm will vigorously defend and has sought to dismiss immediately the meritless age discrimination lawsuit filed by Matt Ryan, a white male 47-year-old former staff attorney, after the EEOC dismissed his complaint. BuckleySandler is committed to treating all employees, including older white males, in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.
(I see what you did there. By repeatedly referring to Ryan as a “white male,” you cast doubt on his claims of discrimination by highlighting his inherent privilege. Subtle, clever, +1.)
Chief among Ryan’s grievances is rampant favoritism. Now, to the best of my recollection I have never worked with Ryan or for BuckleySandler, so I have no firsthand knowledge about the allegations, but claims of favoritism at a doc review job? Quelle surprise. The politics of a document review project are often out of proportion to the actual issues involved (precisely because the stakes are so small).
Claims of backbiting and squabbling feature prominently in Ryan’s Complaint. Not content to launch into just the managers and other persons in positions of authority at the firm, Ryan casts aspersions on the work product and ethics of his fellow reviewers:
Another example of their [fellow document reviewers’] lack of effort was the extraordinary amount of cherry picking of files that they did… Cherry picking should never be allowed. The only reason that people do it is to do less and create the facade that they are doing more. Pick out some easy ones, you don’t have to work hard, but it looks like you have done a lot of work… I could have done that amount… in a long weekend. I thought about it but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Cherry picking is a total disgrace, I have higher standards.
Tell us how you really feel. Every project I have ever been on involves some reviewers trying to scheme a way to identify the easy documents and only review those. Is it a sh**ty thing to do to your co-workers? Yes. Is it a “total disgrace”? That might be overselling it.
Ryan also takes issue with some of the associates at BuckleySandler who managed his projects. Actually, “take issue” may be a bit of a misnomer. Ryan alleges he was being bullied by one of the associates, Khalid Jones (who’s no longer at the firm), right around the time he informed the firm he had to have his wisdom teeth extracted:
Thursday night around 10:30 I received an email… that stated there was a team meeting early on Friday. The meeting was a total waste of time and the client’s money. The junior associate said that she didn’t know why Khalid Jones told her to call a meeting, maybe to say that the client was very cost conscious. We didn’t know why because he never showed up. This cost the cost conscious client around $1,000. I suspect that the real reason was that Khalid Jones was pushing me extra hard that week because he knew I was not well… It was clear that I was being subjected to very unfair treatment by Khalid Jones. At a minimum, he should have been reprimanded and I should have been pulled from all of his projects immediately. I don’t think this malicious and brutal treatment would have been tolerated had it occurred to anyone else.
Putting aside Ryan’s specific allegations of “brutal treatment” in his case, there is certainly an issue with management on plenty of document review projects (and in law firms generally). Often junior associates find themselves in positions of authority with little experience and no training. I have seen projects devolve into a virtual free-for-all because an inexperienced associate waffles on a decision or makes contrary ones with, what seems to be, little rationale. Leadership isn’t a skill you get along with a J.D., and making that erroneous assumption usually wastes client money.
BuckleySandler has filed a motion to dismiss and compel arbitration, so we may never know more about Matt Ryan’s allegations, but have fun reading the full Complaint (and the Motion to Dismiss) on the next page.