U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams on Wednesday denied a motion by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to dismiss a suit filed earlier this year by a contract attorney who claims the firm should have paid him overtime for a document review stint he did.
Ruling in Manhattan federal district court Wednesday, Abrams allowed the suit to proceed to “limited discovery” and added that she would entertain a request for summary judgment once more information pertinent to the case is submitted.
Filed in March on behalf of attorney William Henig, the suit alleges that Quinn Emanuel and legal staffing agency Providus violated overtime pay requirements laid out in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) during the six-week period Henig spent doing document review related to pending litigation as a contract attorney for the firm in August 2012.
Quinn Emanuel filed its motion to dismiss in April, and lawyers for the firm—led by white-collar and corporate investigations cochair Marc Greenwald— argued in October that Henig’s work rose to the level of practicing law and is therefore exempt from overtime pay requirements. Those sentiments were echoed by counsel for Providus, Bryan Cave employment partner Zachary Hummel. (The FLSA offers exemptions to overtime rules for a range of employees, including trained lawyers who use “advanced knowledge” in their work.)
Meanwhile, Henig’s attorney—Joseph & Kirschenbaum partner D. Maimon Kirschenbaum—has argued that his client’s document review did not meet the standards of exempted work. Kirschenbaum claims Henig’s efforts amounted to nothing more than a routine task that did not require him to call on his legal expertise.
In her ruling, Abrams said the court could not yet make a determination about whether Henig’s work for Quinn rose to the level of practicing law. She added that she prefers that discovery begin as soon as possible. Abrams outlined several unanswered questions she hopes will be addressed during that process, including whether Quinn Emanuel asked Providus specifically for licensed attorneys to staff the document review project. She expressed curiosity about whether Quinn Emanuel had represented Henig as an attorney to its client, and whether his work was billed accordingly.
As The Am Law Daily has previously reported, Kirschenbaum has a history of pursuing high-profile targets in the legal and restaurant industries with wage-and-hour claims. One of the Kirschenbaum’s past contract attorney clients reached a settlement in a 2010 suit brought against Labaton Sucharow. He is currently representing contract attorney David Lola in a overtime pay dispute involving document review Lola performed for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 2012. Skadden and Tower Legal Staffing are the defendants in that suit, which was filed in July.
In a motion to dismiss Lola’s suit [PDF] filed last week, Skadden asserts that “while [document review] might not be as high-profile as arguing a motion or trying a case, it is a necessary and critical part of every litigation that constitutes the practice of law.” (In October, The Am Law Daily reported that the judge in the case—U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan— expressed skepticism toward Lola’s complaint during a premotion conference, but said he still preferred that Skadden fully brief its motion to dismiss.)