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In what is believed to be a first in the private legal profession, a group of disgruntled lawyers in Arizona have unionized over pay and working conditions, designating the Teamsters as their collective bargaining unit. And they say their action has drawn interest from colleagues. “We’ve been contacted by other lawyers who have heard about us and are thinking about doing the same thing,” said Monte Rich, a lawyer at Los Angeles-based Parker Stanbury’s Phoenix office. “I think there are a lot of attorneys out there in a lot of places who are being treated like dirt.” Parker Stanbury has a contract with Pre-Paid Legal Service, which provides poor and middle-class people with easy access to a lawyer. Members pay about $25 a month for unlimited phone calls and consultations with a lawyer. Rich is one of 16 lawyers at Parker Stanbury who recently voted to join Teamsters Local 104 in Phoenix, a local comprised of truckers, grocery companies’ bakery drivers and United Postal Service workers. Two of the 18 lawyers eligible to vote abstained. Parker Stanbury has five offices in Arizona. Managing partner Robert LoPresti declined to comment and referred calls to Wayne Hersch, the negotiator for Parker Stanbury. “The employees have voted. That’s fine by us, and we’re prepared to negotiate a deal that satisfies all parties,” Hersch said. The union’s complaints include few research materials, no law library, limited Internet access, low pay, hourly performance quotas and working in open cubicles. They say a lack of resources is especially troublesome because most of the lawyers at Parker work exclusively on the telephone, giving out legal advice. MONTHS OF FEUDING Several lawyers said that after months of feuding with management, they decided to unionize. “I’m impressed that they stuck it out,” said Ed Bagwell, a Teamster organizer who is working with the group. Bagwell said the Teamsters have long represented district attorneys who work in the public sector, but never private lawyers. Depending on the outcome of negotiations, Parker Stanbury has threatened to lock out and replace the unionized workers. “Naturally, if the union goes on strike, one of the options would be to lock the employees out,” Hersch said. “But that’s if they go on strike. We don’t anticipate that.” Hersch said the company has not made any formal proposals to the workers because it is still waiting for an initial proposal from the union. Responding to some of the complaints, Hersch acknowledged there is no formal law library, but said lawyers have access to online legal resources. As for work quotas, he said those are criteria set by Pre-Paid Legal Service. Under Pre-Paid guidelines, attorneys at Parker’s Phoenix office are required to resolve 2 1/2 complaints per hour. “We end up being telemarketers,” said Bob Zachreson, a unionized lawyer. Bagwell said the Teamsters have filed four unfair labor practice charges against Parker Stanbury for allegedly interfering with the unionization effort. Several lawyers allege that management on several occasions tried to block the union through letters and meetings. Parker attorney Heath Dooley, who led the union campaign, said he turned to the Teamsters after months of effort to improve work conditions. “We seemed to be powerless and the only way that we could collectively accomplish something would be as a group,” Dooley said. Dooley said low pay is also a big issue, with starting salaries at $50,000 — well below the $75,000 to $80,000 market rate for lawyers in the same area. Malcolm Robinson, president of the National Bar Association, said the Phoenix union is the first such union he has heard of. “But I am not surprised,” he said. Robinson said that given the changing nature of the legal industry, where lawyers are offering services through pre-paid contracts, labor conflicts are likely to erupt. He likened lawyers to doctors who run into problems with insurance companies.

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