Finally document reviewer David Lola got his day in court last Friday. On Abovethelaw.com (ATL), Kathryn Rubino aka Alex Rich followed that seemingly suicidal move by a contract lawyer closely. Few of us expected it to be heard. But it was. What happens to Lola's career path remains to be seen. The world usually is not kind to whistle-blowers, especially not in a staid profession such as law.
Last September, as many recall from ATL, Lola's lawsuit had been tossed by U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in New York. The litigation has been rattling around since July 2013.
In that lawsuit against Skadden, Arps and Tower Legal Solutions, Lola contends that he should be paid overtime because the tasks he does can be performed by a non-lawyer. A three-judge panel in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard his arguments. Here is the coverage by Sara Randazzo in The Wall Street Journal.
The implications are huge, for both the expenses of law firms and for the available document review contract jobs for lawyers. If law firms have to cough up overtime, they would tend to outsource the assignments or accelerate automation of it. In the glutted field of legal services, JDs would find themselves even without these on-demand-economy jobs which pay $25 to $30 an hour. That's peanuts compared to what BigLaw associates are paid. However, it's higher than most service-sector freelance jobs. Also, it's a way to keep up with student loan payments.
Another consequence if Lola wins is that law firms might be forced by public opinion to humanize the setting for performing these tasks. Those of us who have labored in call centers - usually for $10 to 13.50 hourly - are quite familiar with conditions for document reviewers. As Randazzo states:
" ... contract lawyers often work shoulder-to-shoulder in crowded rooms without access to phones or the Internet out of privacy concerns by clients. Some work sites prohibit talking ... while others post lists of rules dictating what kind of food can be eaten in the review rooms and when bathroom breaks can be taken."
A Lola victory could embolden the call-center freelance, part-time and full-time workplace to lobby for more humane conditions and perhaps higher compensation.
At the end of all this, though, legal pioneer Lola may never again be able to be hired to do anything in legal services. If he is clever and learned a lot about lobbying for a cause, he could become a paid leader in an advocacy organization. When the ad firm lost the anchor client Lucky Strike in "Mad Men," a resilient Don Draper turned the lemon into lemonade. He positioned and packaged the firm and himself in The New York Times as firmly in the anti-tobacco space. New kinds of accounts came in.