Lots of people in lots of professions believe they are underpaid. Teachers, nurses, McDonalds employees all have strong arguments as to why they should be paid more than they are. But the stark difference between the hourly wage a document reviewer makes and the amount the firm charges for that work — even when you account for all of the overhead costs — is enough to make anyone vexed. When the group of people you are annoying is a bunch of lawyers with too much time on their hands… well then you get lawsuits.
I think we officially have a trend here. We’ve covered other lawsuits by contract attorneys trying to make their nut. And while previous cases have tested the question of whether document review is actually legal work (and therefore exempt from overtime regulations) this latest suit has a more novel approach…
This case comes to us from good old Texas (and not a single reference to guns in the whole story) where a contract attorney filed a claim for conversion of wages. The Texas Lawyer has the details:
Dallas lawyer Malcolm Pipes filed a novel conversion-of-wages lawsuit against the owner of a firm where Pipes had worked as a contract attorney and against six of the firm’s clients. More than two years ago, Dallas’ Fifth Court of Appeals overruled a trial court’s dismissal of Pipes’ suit and allowed his case to go forward.
Well that seems like it might actually be a victory for the little guy, who should now be able to actually argue the substance of his claims. I sure hope nothing goes wrong for him.
But on April 14, the Fifth Court ruled that Pipes had abandoned his claims. The appeals court based its most recent decision on the fact that Pipes filed an amended petition naming only one of the initially named seven defendants and later sent a letter to the appeals court dismissing his claims against that one named defendant. Pipes didn’t instead file a supplemental petition, wrote the court. The bottom line: Pipes won’t get to test his substantive argument.
The Court even went out of its way to point out their decision was in fact procedural in nature noting, “Had Pipes filed a supplemental pleading, instead of an amended pleading, his claims against these defendants would have been preserved.”
Sad trombone. I guess there really is a reason people spend the big bucks for Biglaw experience.
Now I may not be the Amazing Kreskin but it isn’t hard to predict we’ll see even more suits from contract attorneys. With wages now dipping into the minimum wage range (or worse) and the ever present threat of student debt there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of downside to taking a crack at the employers that are still making money. Conditions and salary have all consistently gotten worse during my tenure as a doc review monkey. And every May there are more newly minted attorneys graduating without a full time job lined up, and before long they too will enter the exciting field of document review. With so many attorneys flooding the market, employers have no incentive to increase wages. Well, unless one of these lawsuits is successful.
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