On July 23, 2015, the Second Circuit found that the trial court erred by concluding that contract attorneys “engaging in document review per se constitutes practicing law,” and remanded the case for further proceedings on the issue. Whether the attorneys were “practicing law” is important because if they were they would be exempt from certain wage and hour benefits and protections.
The class of document review attorneys alleged in their complaint that “a machine” could have performed the document review services because the work did not require any legal knowledge, skill or training. Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler found that both parties “agreed at oral argument that an individual who, in the course of reviewing documents, undertakes tasks that could otherwise be performed entirely by a machine cannot be said to engage in the practice of law.”
The definition of the “practice of law” is state-specific, but many states consider the “exercise of some legal judgment an essential element of the practice of law,” including North Carolina where this case is pending.
In sum, if contract attorneys or lower-level associates are merely conducting menial tasks and not exercising some legal judgment, they may be entitled to various wage and hour benefits and protections, such as overtime compensation that exempt employees are not entitled to.