Adjunct professors aren't the only highly educated workers who are being underpaid. It's another CSR issue for Wall Street.
By Steven Katz, Lawyer
Taking advantage of a flooded legal labor market, large Wall Street law firms, aided and abetted by temporary agencies, are exploiting transient document reviewers. It is the antithesis of responsible social and professional practice and harms both clients and the Bar.
New Lawyers Face Low Pay, Long Hours and Crushing Debt
Enforced overtime and weekend work (including Sunday), lack of overtime pay in many cases for work clearly outside the professional exemption, keeping and public sharing of logs of the number of records done by each reviewer, unhealthy working conditions, and the totally one-sided power of the law firms is crushing the lives and careers of many young lawyers drowning in school debt, as well as older lawyers trying to make ends meet.
It is the one percent against the 99 percent, with no holds barred.
Too Many Lawyers, Too Few Rights
“Document review” gives new lawyers no experience that will be useful in real practice with the local firms who will in all likelihood (someday, maybe) offer them a job. It does not teach them how to try a case, make a motion or do arbitration.
Yet, because law schools irresponsibly admit many more students than can be employed to boost their own revenues, document review is the only work available to most new lawyers—and even many with experience—in this depressed labor market. The word is getting out, and new applications to law schools are dropping, but this will not have an effect on the legal labor market for at least three years (and probably longer).
Apparently, for the well-heeled Wall Street partners, the days of the Victorian sweatshop are not over! This is the best-kept secret and suppressed situation of thousands of lawyers in New York City and throughout the country. However, the story is getting out and major news media are now working on it. I know of at least one now putting investigative reporters on the story.
The average salary of a Wall Street partner is between $1 – 2 million. A first year associate makes about $150,000. Minimum wage workers are asking for $15 per hour and unionized janitors are now making $35 per hour. However, the average wage for temporary document review lawyers is now between $25 and $30 per hour (often without overtime).
Law firms and agencies are making obscene profits while new lawyers struggle, demoralized, with education debt that frequently reaches six figures. Lawyers who have put in thousands of hours of education, work and internship deserve better.
Don’t Mourn. Organize!
Document review lawyers have been talking for some time of collective union organizing to deal with this situation. Under discussion among the legal labor force are the following options:
- Complaints filed with the state labor boards wages and hours divisions
- Complaints filed with OHSA and City / State Health Boards on overcrowded and airless work spaces
- Unionization drives
- Meetings with state and federal bar representatives to enact guidelines for the protection of lawyers and clients
- Lobbying of state and federal elected officials to enact new legislation to protect all temporary workers, including professional temporary workers
- Promoting a Social Responsibility Board of Law Partners from the major firms
Lenny Bruce, the great comic, once said, “The only justice in the Halls of Justice are in the halls.” Isn't it time socially responsible corporate, legal and Bar authorities see that this statement does not apply to this situation any longer?
About the Author:
Steven Katz practices law in New York City. He also spent many years in legal publishing, including in the International Law Department of Oxford University Press USA. Currently, he works on document review projects and does per diem court appearances.