Wednesday, September 03, 2008
De Novo Legal's "Jolly John"
"This is a story about working for De Novo Legal at its midtown Manhattan and about its Site Manager, John Thacher ("Jolly John").
In his introductory remarks to us in connection with my current project, Jolly John told us a lot of things I just do not believe to be true.
One was that he likes to see De Novo mentioned in this Blog.
I wonder whether he will still feel that way when he reads (1) what I have to say about De Novo in general, and (2) about how he manages his business in particular.
I am one of 60 contract attorneys who are -- theoretically -- "working for" De Novo Legal at its midtown Manhattan location.
As I will explain in a moment, we did not work yesterday (Tuesday, September 2, 2008), and we are not working today (Wednesday, September 3, 2008).
The law firm is Weil Gotshal & Manges.
The client is a manufacturer of high-end data storage equipment for computer systems.
Each of us was required to make a commitment to work "14 straight days" (that is, 14 consecutive days).
This included all three days of the Labor Day weekend (how aptly named!).
We were promised $35 per hour and time-and-a-half for overtime (wait until you see how tis is computed!).
We were told that we would be expected to make "10-12" billable hours per day and "60" billable hours per week.
We were told that the "document coding room" would be open 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays, and Labor Day.
When we were recruited were told that the project would begin "on Friday, August 22, 2008, or on Monday, August 25, 2008."
The project began on Friday, August 22, 2008, and that was -- obviously -- no accident.
"Overtime" is defined as all hours during the weekly pay period after 40 hours (in other words, from Hour 41 to the last hour billed during the weekly pay period).
Like most, if not all, of these agencies, De Novo's weekly pay period runs from Monday through the following Sunday.
By requiring all "contract attorneys" (read that as "serfs") to begin working on a Friday (and to work on Saturday and Sunday), and by maintaining that the weekly pay period begins on the following Monday, De Novo availed itself of three full days of work from each of the 60 contract attorneys that did not figure into the computation of their entitlement to time-and-a-half for overtime.
I will not reveal the number of hours I worked because that would make it possible for De Novo to identify me. Let it suffice for this purpose for me to say:
1. I am not stupid, I just lack bargaining power (more on this below).
2. I worked a full day on Friday, August 22, 2008; a full day on Saturday, August 23, 2008; and a full day on Sunday, August 24, 2008. None of those hours "counted" toward reaching Hour 41 during my first seven days on this project.
3. Yeah, yeah. As I said above, I understand that De Novo's weekly pay period begins on Monday. That has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with computing the first 40 hours and computing everything that follows. This is nothing other than bait-and-switch. I have the e-mail stating the terms of the employment to demonstrate that this amounts to a breach of contract, pure and simple. But it gets worse.
Evidently, De Novo and its sister agencies think every aspect of the employment relationship is a one-way street: All the advantages flow from the employee to the employer (and the employer's principals, the law firm and the "client" the law firm represents); all the disadvantages flow toward the employee (that is, you and me).
For example, when I worked for Sullivan & Cromwell LLP ("S&C") (through a different agency), I was required to sign a document that (1) required me to commit myself to continue the project to its completion, and (2) characterized the employment as "at will" so that the employment could be terminated by the employer (the agency at the behest of S&C) at any time, for any reason, or for no reason at all. Are we all insane? The answer is, "Yes, we are because we tolerate these abuses (more below).
On Wednesday, August 27, 2008, the "system" was running very slowly. At 5:15 p.m., Jolly John told us that "we" would be closing for the day at 5:30 p.m. That meant a loss of 4.5 hours for each of 60 contract attorneys. Here is the math: $35.00 x 4.5 hours = $157.50 per contract attorney x 60 contract attorneys = $9,450 in aggregate lost wages.
Actually, I understated the loss to the contract attorneys. Since each one has made a commitment to work at least 60 billable hours per week, each one is expected to work at least 20 billable hours at the overtime rate of $52.50 per hour. Every lost hour "come off the top, so here is the real math: $52.50 x 4.5 hours = 236.25 per contract attorney x 60 contract attorneys = $14,175 in aggregate lost wages.
Wait, it gets worse.
Someone must have suggested to Jolly John that it would be reasonable to pay us time-and-a-half for all hours worked on Labor Day, a national holiday (it was not I who did that).
He then announced to all contract attorneys that if anyone is not satisfied being paid straight time to work on Labor Day, he or she should just take the day off. So much for the client's supposedly urgent need to have its work completed. I use the word "supposedly" here because why else would they have asked 60 contract attorneys to make a commitment to work 14 straight days, including Labor Day?
On Labor Day at 5:00 p.m., although many of us had just signed out new batches of documents, Jolly John revealed to us that "we" were running low on documents. He regaled us with a tale of his efforts to get some (unnamed) third party in some (undisclosed) location to load more documents. he went on to tell us how he said to someone, in substance, "How would you like it if I sent you home for two days without work and without pay?" What good does that do me? My creditors do not care why I do not have enough money to pay them.
Jolly John told us we could continue to work past 6:00 p.m. and go until 8:00 p.m., if so inclined.
Tuesday was an idle day. After all, all 60 of us made "commitments" to be available to work for De Novo and its principal, WGM, and WGM's client. Nor could any of us scrounge up work for a single day (let alone work on the functional equivalent of zero advance notice). Let's do the math again:
$35.00 per hour x 10 hours (minimum commitment of a contract attorney on this project) = $350.00 per hour x 60 contract attorneys = $21,000."