Pre-Bar Admission Law Grads Can Be Exempt

Matthew Zelasko-Barrett graduated law school and obtained a job with Brayton-Purcell, a large, Marin County firm. Before passing the bar and becoming a licensed lawyer, he was designated a Law Clerk II; after admission he became an associate.  After quitting, he decided to sue Brayton-Purcell, claiming he was "mis-classified" as exempt during his time as a Law Clerk II.

Although licensed, salaried lawyers qualify as exempt, so do "learned" professionals.  The associate's principal argument was that because licensed professionals qualify as exempt under one part of the definition, unlicensed lawyers cannot.  The court of appeal rejected that argument.

It bears noting that the Law Clerk II's duties practically mirrored  a licensed associate's, with the exception of signing documents as a lawyer, court appearances, etc.  Had the Law Clerk II's duties been more clerical, this case might have come out another way.

The court here also heavily relied on a 9th Circuit decision, in which the Court of Appeals held that certain accountants were exempt, even though they were not licensed as CPAs.  CPA is another category of licensed professional. See Campbell v. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, LLP (E.D.CA 2009) 602 F.Supp.2d 1163, 1172, revd. (2011) 642 F. 3d 820.  The district court held that the accountants were non-exempt, but the court of appeals reversed and held they were. 

That means this case has more applicability than just to law firms.  The other licensed professionals are: "medicine, dentistry, optometry, architecture, engineering, teaching, or accounting."  Again, unlicensed professionals will have to pass the duties test of the exemption and receive the required salary.

The case is Zelasko-Barrett v. Brayton-Purcell LLP and the opinion is here.