NEW YORK — A temporary attorney who filed an overtime suit against his law firm, which was dismissed by a federal district court, presented oral arguments in front of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals last May. The plaintiff argued that the document review work he was performing was too menial to qualify as practicing law and, therefore, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP wrongfully classified him as an exempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
FLSA Exemption for Professional Employees
FLSA provides an exemption from both minimum wage and overtime pay for those employed as bona fide professional employees. According to the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor, there are two types of exempt professional employees: learned professionals and creative professionals.
To qualify for the learned professional exemption, the following must be satisfied:
- The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis no less than $455 per week.
- The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge which is predominantly intellectual in character and requires the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment.
- The knowledge required must be in a field of science or learning.
- The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.
Therefore, professional employees perform work that uses advanced knowledge to analyze, interpret, or make deductions from facts. This is distinguished from work involving routine mental, manual, mechanical, or physical work.
Document Review Work
Normally, licensed attorneys engaged in the practice of law are classified as exempt under FLSA. However, the plaintiff in this case argued that his routine and mechanical work as a document reviewer involved merely looking for certain search terms and called for no legal analysis whatsoever and, therefore, does not qualify as being engaged in the practice of law. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff’s job entailed looking for search terms in documents, marking those documents into predetermined categories and, sometimes, drew black boxes to redact portions of the documents based on specific protocols from the law firm. The federal district court dismissed his case because no appellate court had addressed what the “practice of law” entails and, therefore, applied the prevailing standard from North Carolina. The Second Circuit will now have the opportunity to craft a federal standard for what constitutes the “practice of law.”
If you or someone you know is misclassified as exempt from overtime, you should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page. Our top rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are strict time limitations for filing so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today.