4/7/11

Ex-Findlaw Content Writer Files Class Action for Back Wages and Skipped Meals

Jason Beahm, a San Francisco lawyer and former content writer for Thomson Reuters' (TR) Findlaw website, has filed a class action complaint (PDF) against TR, and the employee contracting company, Adecco, claiming that the writers in the Sunnyvale, California offices were not properly paid for overtime worked, for the meals (and premium wages for those meal periods) required under California labor laws, and for not providing itemized wage statements for the workers. Beahm is petitioning for class action status for at least 50 other Findlaw writers, and is seeking restitution of back wages and attorney fees.

Beahm has written in a number of different online venues, including for the ABA's GPSOLO magazine, for law firm blogs like the HGB law blog, and a number of articles for Findlaw.  When I ran a search on Findlaw's website for Jason Beahm's name, there were over 1,200 results in the News and Commentary section of the results list. By my estimates, this would mean that Beahm churned out about 100 blog posts, news and commentary a month over the slightly less than 13 months of work at Findlaw.

I discussed the issue of hours versus quota work with Beahm's attorney, Aaron Kaufmann. Kaufmann said that quota numbers "varied over time, but eight a day was one of the quotas they were given." If the quota wasn't met, then the editors from Findlaw would email the writers demanding that they turn them in that night, sometimes very late at night. "I'm sure the editors were being exploited, too. They were probably one step above the writers," Kaufmann explained.

The work arrangement for the writers allowed them to work part of the week at the Findlaw facility in Sunnyvale, and part of the week from home. Typically, Beahm would work three days a week in the facility, traveling to and from work on the train, and the other days (sometime making for a six or seven-day week)  from his San Francisco residence. According to Kaufmann, "Jason was told whatever you do, just put down 40 hours for the week. That's all you get paid for."

Kaufmann says that this type of practice is fairly common, especially during a down economy. "If you can work them for 50, 60, 70 hours a week and only pay them for 40 for $22 a pop, that's a pretty good gig for the employer." Professional writers may be feeling it more than most professions right now. Kaufmann continued,  "Unfortunately, the writers are getting exploited more and more. There are fewer and fewer jobs, and the jobs that there are, the pay has gotten poorer and poorer. It's just indicative of the writing profession generally."

Most writers that find themselves in this position either don't think they deserve overtime, or for some reason view overtime as insulting to them as "professionals." Kaufmann mentioned that some of the technical writers that he has represented in similar cases fell into this same situation where the writers held themselves as "professional and they had discretion in how they write… which is fine, but that doesn't make them exempt." Since many of the professional writers consider themselves as white-collar professionals, they tend to accept that they are not eligible for overtime or other labor law protections.

Kaufmann reiterated that it is a common misconception in the high-tech industry, but that "the fact that it takes some intelligence and some skill to turn out the product that your employer is asking you to turn out, doesn't make you exempt." According to Kaufmann, however, many businesses "continue to engage in the practice as long as they can get away with it. In a down economy they can get away with it to a great degree because people are scared."

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2 comments:

Timothy P. Flynn, Esq. said...

Interesting post. At one point in time (circa 2005), my law firm considered a Findlaw contract. We explored their web site options, particularly the law centers and FAQs; available in canned format a la carte. When we drilled into the content, we were surprised to learn how shoddy the content was. Cant help but wonder if Beahm was behind any of the schlock...

James Eichenberger said...

This is typical, not just of large corporations, but of FindLaw in particular. There are two sides to every product, the shiny side that you show to the attorneys (who for the most part have neither the time to read it thoroughly nor the desire to understand how it works) and then there is the ugly back end where you get it all done for as little as possible. Back in 2007 when they were selling that SEM advantage program for $20,000 annually it included little if any paid directories. So it was all basically stuff you could do on your own with the time and know-how.

The content issue for FindLaw has always been a problem, and they are mostly protected from the fact that most attorneys simply trust them to do it well and do not read it. It was fairly regular to have to deal with attorneys who were upset because they found a typo or a point of law that was incorrect for their state that had been on their site for 6, 12, 18 months or more...

Blogging for lawyers is worthless if it's not done by the lawyers. I see too many attorneys chasing the idea of a blog when their main website still needs content. That is why there is space in the market for this, but any real blogger (and I do NOT consider myself among them) will tell you that work and consistent dedication are the keys to a successful blog, not how much you can pay a big corporation to over-work and under-pay some writers...

 

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