Great news for recent law school grads! Not only are firms around the country laying off new lawyers and is the supply of lawyers rapidly outpacing the demand, a California judge ruled that law school grads clerking before entering the bar are not eligible for overtime pay.
A Northern California lawyer sued Brayton Purcell LLP, a personal injury practice, for not paying him overtime while he clerked there in 2009. That’s because, even though law school grads haven’t necessarily passed the bar, their degrees qualify them are members of the “learned profession.” This interpretation expands that group beyond licensed professionals, and ostensibly could include anyone with enough education.
The ruling by the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco interpreted that exemption, which also governs requirements for daily rest breaks and other benefits, to cover law graduates who have not earned their licenses but work on cases under the supervision of a licensed attorney.
The lawyer who sued Brayton Purcell, Matt Zelasko-Barrett, may have reason to feel exploited. Although he did not sign his name to legal documents and worked in a subordinate capacity, the court ruled that exercised “a significant level of discretion,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The judge, Stuart Pollack, noted that Zelasko-Barrett’s contributions were largely intellectual, and thus went beyond routine clerical tasks.
It’s easy to understand Zelasko-Barrett’s beef. Before passing the bar, he essentially did junior attorney level work for far less money and without the benefits that accompany that higher salary.
The obvious retort is: then pass the bar and get a better job!
But from a birds eye view, this is just a part of an ongoing trend at law firms looking to cut costs in a market that has a surplus of graduates. This ruling will only make it more difficult for young graduates to receive the compensation they deserve after three years of incurring massive debt.