Yesterday, Judge Abrams granted Quinn Emanuel’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed overtime claims brought by a purported class of contract attorneys. The plaintiff, hired by a third-party staffing firm that provided contract attorneys for Quinn Emanuel’s document review projects, argued that he was entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York’s Labor Law. Judge Abrams’ decision turned on whether the plaintiff was “engaged in the practice of law,” which would exempt him from the provisions of the FLSA and Labor Law as a professional employee. According to Judge Abrams, even if legal tasks were routine or constrained by guidelines they still required some legal judgment and thus constituted the practice of law. She noted:
The history of law, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “is the history of the moral development of the race.” But many practicing lawyers – especially junior attorneys at large law firms – know that their jobs too often have less to do with the development of the human race or the law than with tasks that are necessarily repetitive in nature, modest in intellectual scope, and banal in character. Particularly in a litigation in which a good deal of money is at stake, attorneys generally must review thousands if not millions of documents and analyze them for relevance and privilege using their legal judgment. Many of those documents must then be reviewed and analyzed again (and often again) by others higher on the case team’s chain of command. Not all of it is law at its grandest but all of it is the practice of law. [Plaintiff] was engaged in that practice.