Employment situation

Could someone please verify my reasoning?

Currently, I’m employed by a law firm as fresh meat. Little over minimal wage, promised to double in March. The firm is a limited partnership and the partners I work for (not certain about one) maintain separate law firms in their own names and with separate addresses. I don’t know if that’s their home address and they just do some work through those mini-firms, or if they actually spend some little time there. Generally, the centre of the activity is the big firm and all employees work there. They get quarter-time minimum wage employment (medical insurance etc) in one of the tiny individual law firms and contracts for legal services for the rest (and since every partner is only a minority partner in the big firm, it counts as employment with two separate employers). The work is somewhat independent but tasks are assigned as they come and one’s supposed to be at work in fixed hours every day.

When one of the partners offered me the job, he said if I wanted everything by the book, I would simply get less money net. His proposal is quarter-time in the name of his private mini-firm and a services contract in the big firm. While I sometimes work on cases that are conducted through the mini-firm, that’s because those cases are generally managed in the big firm but come out in the name of the small one. I’m expected to be at work in fixed hours and available. I’m not really supervised, but I get feedback and sometimes I’m expected to change tasks or something - which all make it look more like normal employment than the work of a contractor.

I realise I’ll look like I’m trying to be holier than everyone if I demand a normal employment contract and getting less money out of it (they care how much they spend on it, not how much you get) while everyone is on the quarter-time employment + services pattern and even the tax office doesn’t have a problem with it. Insurance inspectors don’t seem to care, but I believe at least labour inspectors would have a problem with it and it all does seem to be in conflict with what traditional science of law sees as salaried employment, mandate contract etc. Things I do could technically be contractual services, but the fact I work fixed hours, fixed wage, have to be available etc make me feel bad abotu signing a services contract. So am I trying to be more Catholic than the Pope, or do you think my concerns are justified?

At least I hope if they see me “force” a perfectly unquestionable employment contract for all the money that changes hands, perhaps they won’t ask me to do anything dubious in the future. I’ve already refused to introduce myself as someone I’m not (client’s employee, client himself, the attorney who got the powers) and they don’t ask. And yes, I’m looking for a different job.

At least I hope if they see me “force” a perfectly unquestionable employment contract for all the money that changes hands, perhaps they won’t ask me to do anything dubious in the future

The legal profession can and should be a noble and honorable career path for anyone. Unfortunately, the way it is now I think you’re right to prepare for more challenges to your conscience in the future. I know a couple of Catholic lawyers and this kind of opposition and sometimes persecution (ridicule, ostracisim, unfair practices) are a very common feature of life.

Personally, I think it’s good if you start to face it now and start your career by avoiding as many compromises as you can. You will be tempted constantly – to evade the truth, cover-up facts, play the game, and do other unjust things.

It’s a very dangerous situation. Honest lawyers can do an immense amount of good – but the temptations are very strong also.

I’ve already refused to introduce myself as someone I’m not (client’s employee, client himself, the attorney who got the powers) and they don’t ask. And yes, I’m looking for a different job.

That’s a good start – and yes, it’s good that you’re looking for a different job. You should also be careful about the temptation to make big money, and turn your sights instead on being a help to those in need – in service to God and for the moral good of society as much as possible.

Thanks. Well, talked to a more senior lawyer today, who’s more of a specalist in that kind of contracts than I am, and he confirmed my idea that it can’t qualify as contractual services. He doesn’t see it as a bad thing to sign that kind of thing and says he wouldn’t care so much, but I’d rather I didn’t have to.

If you don’t perceive ethical issues with how the firm does their business, you might even be able to work 100% on a personal services contract, rather than as a direct-hire employee. If you provide services to multiple “mini-firms”, in fact, that might be a better way to go (as you can bill each of the firms for the hours you provide services)

That is the norm in other professions and trades and, as long as you are ethical when it comes to paying the tax man, is not morally an issue.

Well, yes, I know it’s the norm, but I don’t get to bill them for hours. They set a specific amount, like a salary, and then they call it contracted services, while you answer to them throughout the whole work, you need to reassign tasks when they come up with something new, you need to be ready at all times - within your specific work hours - to accept tasks and so on. According to our law and jurisprudence, it’s an employment contract when you work fix hours and place, subject to supervision and directions from the employee and can’t sub-contract the services to someone else (so you have to perform personally). And then there’s the criminal norm which says if you sign a civil contract where you should sign employment, you can get up to 2 years of jail. Regards whether they’d actually prosecute an employee who’s in a dire situation, at least the employer would be committing a crime.

Taxes are nearly the same when the pay is little, but when the pay rises, taxes are much lower because we have a progressive scale for employment contracts - 19%, 30%, 40% or something, and a fixed 19% on contracts. So when you sign a contract for services instead of normal employment, while it should be employment, you get to pay much smaller taxes.

Also, even with low pay, while taxes already differ (just no so much), obligatory social and medical insurance rates are lower and all in all, you end up with more cash at hand - while the job you perform is actually that of a hired employee. Subject to orders, ready at fixed time and place and so on.

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