Is it legal work? That is the outstanding question in the world of document review, and it is one we have covered before. Well, it is hard not to. The cases being litigated to determine whether or not document review is actually the practice of law are likely to have profound effects on the modern practice of law.
If doc review is not the practice of law then there is, of course, the question of overtime, which is the point of the ongoing cases. If the exemption that legal work has from local overtime laws does not to apply to document review then the back OT pay will certainly make contract attorneys happy, but may have other unintended consequences. Opening this Pandora’s box may result in the document review market opening to non-lawyers, who without staggering law school debt may well be willing to accept even less money for the same work.
This question may define the work of a generation of lawyers, but is it worth losing your job over?
The question over what constitutes legal work doesn’t just implicate overtime and insurance coverage, but has always implicated the pride of those who have made it their career. Even though it may not be what we intended to do with our lives when we went to law school, at some point it becomes obvious that this job that was supposed to tide us over while we were looking for other things has, in fact, become a career. And it may be the lowest rung of the legal profession, but it is still a profession. It is against this backdrop that we get the case of an attorney who is betting it all on calling document review legal work.
It all started in January, when Deloitte LLP purchased a Canadian document review company ATD Legal Services PC. As with most corporate changes there is a period of upheaval, but for those doing the document review for ATD it included a shift in the classification of their job as well. According to the Law Times:
Lawyer Shireen Sondhi, who worked as a document review consultant for ATD when Deloitte acquired it, says she had to part ways with the firm over disagreements on whether document review qualifies as legal work.
At ATD, Sondhi says the company considered her job to be legal work and notes she had to purchase LawPRO errors-and-omissions insurance. But Deloitte classifies the job as non-legal work.
Once Deloitte acquired ATD, Sondhi says a contract presented to her stated she would earn $47 an hour for her work as opposed to the $50 an hour ATD paid its document review staff.
“When I was working at ATD, we were told that [the job] is legal work and they market us as lawyers and so we were required to maintain our LawPRO insurance,” she says.
As unfortunate as it may be, the dip in the hourly rate seems understandable when your company is taken over by a multinational corporation. And the upside is you no longer need to maintain professional insurance, that’s got to be close to a win given the major corporate changes, right?
Well, maybe not.
A few days later, she started working on a project. “The work was the same, so a client hires the law firm — and in this case there was an upcoming litigation — and the law firm outsourced the document review work to Deloitte,” says Sondhi.
“We were still reviewing documents for this upcoming litigation and we were reviewing them for relevancy, for privilege, to sort of determine what category it fit into if it’s relevant and what type of privilege was applied to that document,” she adds.
I get it, you’re a rule follower. And the rules always said you were doing legal work (and therefore needed professional insurance) and this change in classification, without a change in what you do on a day-to-day basis doesn’t sit well. Since the company previously considered it legal work, it only makes sense that it would continue to be so.
Or maybe not.
According to Sondhi, Shelby Austin, the founder of ATD Legal Services who’s now a partner with Deloitte, also told consultants the job isn’t legal work and that she had simply marketed it that way.
Yay, you had to buy professional insurance as part of a marketing ploy. Or at least that is now the story as Deloitte tries to distance itself from a function that officially qualifies as the practice of law.
Though Deloitte later amended the contract, eliminating the words “non-legal” and reclassifying document review as “data processing and computer services,” the change was — shockingly — not good enough for Sondhi, and she has parted ways with the company. Best of luck in finding another document review job that pays $47 an hour (even if it is Canadian).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter @AlexRichEsq