Contract Attorneys, Document Review, Labor / Employment

Contract Attorney Sues Staffing Agency For Overtime; What Happens Next Will Make You Chuckle

So… stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Man sues staffing agency and Biglaw firm for overtime — because document review isn’t really legal work. Man then applies to the EXACT SAME STAFFING AGENCY for more document review work — touting all his legal experience reviewing documents.

Staffing agency then requests sanctions.

Maybe it isn’t the classic tale of boy meets girl, but it is pretty entertaining. Though it’s not as convoluted as it may sound. Find out all the details, and which Biglaw firm was dragged into this suit after the jump…

The first part of this story isn’t all that crazy. There seem to be plenty of folks willing to call their doc review jobs something other than the practice of law in the name of some sweet OT money. In this case it is contract attorney David Lola suing Tower Legal Staffing and Skadden Arps in the Southern District of New York. If you’ve noted the similarities between this case and the case of William Henig (who is suing Quinn Emmanuel for OT for his doc review work) then you are not alone; in fact, the plaintiff’s attorney, D. Maimon Kirschenbaum, is the same in both cases.

Now we get into the “D’oh!” part of the tale. Because then Lola applied to Tower for another contractor gig. Now, I am not going to be too harsh here. According to a letter filed with the district court, Lola did his work for Tower in North Carolina. I don’t know much about the contract attorney market in Charlotte, but I have to assume the opportunities are less… robust than some other cities. Perhaps because of these less-than-ideal market conditions, Lola sent his résumé to the very people he was suing. In any event, defendant Tower (Skadden did not join) was not going to let this gaffe go by that good-naturedly. The American Lawyer has the details of what happened next:

In a curious series of events, Lola applied Jan. 28 to work on a document review project run by Tower — and the attorneys representing Tower in the overtime suit immediately tried to use a paragraph included in Lola’s résumé to undermine the basis of that litigation.

In a so-called safe harbor letter sent Feb. 4 to Lola’s attorney, D. Maimon Kirschenbaum, Tower’s counsel at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart accused Lola and Kirschenbaum of filing the suit “in an attempt to harass Tower,” pointing to what they say are “grossly inaccurate facts” contained in Lola’s second amended complaint. The letter added that Ogletree planned to request monetary sanctions against Lola and Kirschenbaum if they did not voluntarily withdraw the suit.

So based on plaintiff’s own description of the work he did for Tower, Tower sought sanctions claiming the complaint’s description of that same work was grossly inaccurate. This is a stupid “gotcha” argument. Just because everyone doing the hiring in the industry wants applicants to tout document review as “legal experience” doesn’t mean it IS legal work. Lola put in a résumé using the language an employer wanted to hear; he wasn’t conceding that they’re right about what they want to hear.

Fortunately for those of us hoping for a big OT check one day, district court Judge Richard Sullivan was not so anxious to hoist Lola up by his own petard. In a court order issued Monday, Judge Sullivan found “no obvious inconsistency between the résumé entry and any of the allegations made in the complaint or any of the representations plaintiffs made to the court during previous proceedings.” He also saw through the somewhat obvious litigation ploy of requesting sanctions, noting that Tower’s allegations “would not support a nonfrivolous motion for sanctions and are really addressed to the merits of the pending motion to dismiss.”

And with those words, Judge Sullivan is letting the motion to dismiss proceed. Like in the similar case filed by Henig, there are still major hurdles to be cleared before there is a payday, but at least Lola lives to litigate another day.

Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting.  If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at

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