David Lola wanted to be a patent lawyer. He’d been a chemistry major at the University of Texas, then gone to work as a pharmaceutical researcher for Warner-Lambert. But when the company said it would pay his way through law school, he took the offer. Lola applied to only one school, the University of San Diego School of Law, because it was close by. His plan was to keep working as a scientist at Warner-Lambert until he earned his law degree, then to switch over to advising the company on patenting the drugs it developed.
The plan didn’t work out. There are all sorts of reasons why: big things like Warner-Lambert’s merger with Pfizer and the dot.com bust of 2001; and personal tragedies like a car accident and a failed marriage. A decade after Lola graduated from law school in 2003, he was eking out a living as a contract lawyer in North Carolina, reviewing documents for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for $25 an hour. Lola regarded his duties as clerical. According to him, all he did was scan for assigned search terms and click pre-set buttons when he found them. Lola decided that if he was going to do work that didn’t require a law degree, he wanted to be paid overtime when he put in more than 40 hours a week. In 2013, he sued Skadden and Tower Legal Staffing, which was his actual employer on the document review, in a wage-and-hour class action in federal court in Manhattan.
Lola lost his case Tuesday. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan ruled that when lawyers provide legal services, they are deemed to be lawyers regardless of the specific duties of their job. And since lawyers are exempt from federal overtime provisions, Sullivan dismissed Lola’s suit.
Sullivan’s opinion is long on law and short on story. It left me wondering who David Lola is and why he became a contract lawyer. I learned a little about him from other filings in the case, in particular a sanctions motion in February by defense lawyers at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart. Ogletree claimed that Lola and his lawyers at Joseph & Kirschenbaum had misrepresented facts about Lola’s work on the Skadden documents. As evidence, they attached a resume Lola sent in response to a 2014 advertisement for contract lawyers. (Sullivan eventually said he didn’t see any obvious inconsistency between the resume and Lola’s complaint.)
The resume showed that Lola had kicked around a lot, first in California and then in North Carolina. He’d worked at a couple of law firms and tried to make a go of a solo practice, but he kept filling in the gaps with document review for legal staffing companies. Was Lola a victim of the much-publicized glut of young law school graduates who can’t find steady work as lawyers?