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Is There Gold in Your File Cabinet?

How to really help your clients and make money— where you're not trading your time for money

What do doing the right thing, helping your clients, Sutter's Mill, Robert Kiyosaki, and you making a lot of money all have in common? I'm sure you're thinking, "Bill, how in Mark Twain are you going to spin a yarn that includes California's Gold Rush, the life-changing book Rich Dad Poor Dad, my file drawers, helping clients, and making a lot of money?" Well, stick with me a few minutes and we'll see if we can't put it all together for you. I suggest you don't jump to the end about you making a lot of money, but instead, read the whole article so you understand how this all goes down.

The California Gold Rush
My ten-year-old daughter performed an end-of-the-year school play recently about the California Gold Rush. You probably know the story about gold being discovered at Sutter's Mill and that thousands of people migrated to California in 1849 in hopes of striking it rich with gold. The economy was booming in Northern California during the Gold Rush.

Wages and company profits
Similarly, our current economy has been booming now for over 10 years. There has been and is huge pressure on companies—from mid-sized companies to Fortune 500 companies—to show growth and profit every quarter during this sustained bull market.
One easy way for companies to increase profits is to decrease wages. For most companies, wages are the number one expense each quarter. In the corporate world, time is money for labor costs. When a company cuts wages, then the quarterly profits increase. One way to increase profits is to steal wages. This can come in the form of not providing legally compliant breaks, not paying for all time worked, not paying overtime, shaving wages, not reimbursing workers for business expenses, mis-classifying employees as independent contractors and literally dozens and dozens of other California Labor Code violations.

Truth is, companies profit by stealing wages
When workers' wages are stolen, even if the company is caught (read a class action case or Private Attorneys General Act [PAGA] case is filed), the company usually only must pay out a fraction of the wages that were stolen. Companies profit by "cutting corners" of the California Labor Code. This happens every day across California. Companies keep on stealing wages and getting sued for it again and again because the company knows that they almost never have to pay back all the wages that were stolen.

It's easy to justify when you see the California Labor Code as being unfair to the company
These companies feel that the California Labor Code is unfair. Let me give you an example. I was at my kid's game the other day. One of the parent's asked me what I did. I told them that I represent workers in unpaid wages class actions. Their response was, "You don't do those ticky-tacky technical 'I didn't get my breaks,' cases do you?" That's how these business owners see worker rights to a meal break and rest break—as "ticky-tacky." Meaning, they don't see worker's right to a break as something that is important. At least, not to them. They think it's ticky-tacky that workers want to get paid while they stand in a security line while coming and going from work. They think it's ticky-tacky that workers want to get all the wages that they have coming to them under California law. It's well known that California has some of the strongest worker-friendly wage laws in America. Most companies see it as unfair that they must pay California workers' wages that they don't have to pay to their workers in other states. It's easy to justify cutting corners when you see it as "ticky-tacky," technical, and completely unfair to the company. Which is also why so many companies don't see it as wrong. So, companies steal wages from California workers in droves. This happens across California daily. You might be thinking, "Bill how do you know this?" Because I'm on the front lines with unpaid wages lawsuits. I'm frequently asked to testify before the California Senate and Assembly on potential wage theft legislation. I represented the workers in what many lawyers consider the most important California Supreme Court case for unpaid wages—Brinker v. Superior Court. I have one of the largest wage and hour class action law firms in California. I see wage theft every day, day in day out.

Millions of dollars in Labor Code violations
What you're going to see is two things. First, workers (and some lawyers) don't know the ins and outs of California unpaid wages law. For example, in the Brinker Supreme Court case in which I represented the workers, the California Supreme Court laid out four requirements employers must follow during meal breaks: 1. To relieve workers of all duties. 2. To relinquish all control. 3. To provide a reasonable opportunity to take the break. 4. Not do anything to discourage breaks or provide an incentive not to take the break.
And in the Augustus case, the California Supreme Court followed the suggestion that I laid out in my Supreme Court brief that employers have the same duties in providing rest breaks as they do meal breaks. There are many nuances for a company to follow the law in Brinker and Augustus. There are dozens and dozens of other California Labor Code sections and Wage Orders that companies must follow which all have nuances and "technicalities." What I see time and again, is companies not following what they consider to be these "ticky-tacky technical" laws. For example, California workers are entitled to an hour's pay for every missed meal and rest break. Which also give rise to paycheck stub violations and waiting time penalties. What you are going to see is these violations (and a myriad of other California Labor Code violations) add up fast. And for a medium sized company we are talking about millions of dollars and a larger company we are talking about tens of millions of dollars.

Helping your clients and finding gold in your file drawers
You may be thinking right about now, this sucks (or you might not even care), but what does this have to do with me? If you're a lawyer that has real people as clients, then you should listen up. Because we're just getting to the part about how you can help your clients and do the right thing, while finding gold in your file drawers.

Mining the gold in your file drawers
During the California Gold Rush, miners would stand in the rivers of Northern California, sifting the water and sand, looking to find gold nuggets. I suggest that you could and should do the same with your file drawers. Instead of mining for gold, you are looking for clients that work for companies that have 100 or more workers. They don't all have to be hourly employees. Viable unpaid wages cases involve sales persons, improperly calculated incentive pay, workers mis-characterized as independent contractors, hourly workers and the like. The biggest problem you're going to have is that you're not going to know whether there are Labor Code violations or not. In other words, as they say in law school, in most instances—you're not going to be able to "spot the issues." So, what I suggest is that you team up or work with a respected unpaid wages class action lawyer/PAGA lawyer. The problem here is that many lawyers say they have expertise in this field and they will only see the more obvious Labor Code violations.
Time and again, I have had clients hire us after first contacting other law firms and we have gone on to recover seven-figure or even eight-figure results for them because the first lawyers they contacted, literally, didn't spot the issues. Of course, every case is different and past fantastic results in cases don't guarantee any result in future cases.

The good things you accomplish by referring an unpaid wages class action case
First, you are helping your clients get the unpaid wages that they are entitled to under California law. Many of these clients live paycheck to paycheck and the unpaid wages you help them recover will be greatly appreciated by them and their family. It is very satisfying when you help your clients. Second, you are deterring other companies from stealing workers' wages. Third, California law encourages you to refer legal cases to a specialist. The client benefits and you benefit by making the referral. The client gets money compensation for their unpaid wages. The lawyers we work with really appreciate it when they get a large attorney referral fee in a seven-figure or even eight-figure unpaid wages case. Fourth, let's get back to Robert Kiyosaki and his book, Rich Dad Poor Dad. If you haven't read this book, I recommend you do. When you trade your time for money—like most lawyers do by billing clients hourly, you are limited by how much income you can make. But if you refer one of these unpaid wages to a good, honest unpaid wages class action/PAGA lawyer then you are getting a referral fee and you are no longer trading your time for money.

Make sure you refer your unpaid wages case to a law firm that protects you and your client
For example, my firm has a system set up to screen cases referred by other lawyers and to make sure that the State Bar rules regarding referral fees are followed to protect the client and you. Whether it's with my firm or one of the small handful of great, honest unpaid wage class action/PAGA law firms in California—you will be helping your clients and yourself by referring clients. This really is about helping clients and doing the right thing.

William Turley

William (Bill) Turley has one of the largest and most successful unpaid wages class action/PAGA law firms in California. He represented the workers in the Brinker vs. Superior Court case and regularly is asked to write amicus curie briefs before the California Supreme Court in unpaid wages cases. Bill is known as the go-to lawyer at the California State Capital for consulting on unpaid wages legislation. Bill regularly testifies before the California State Senate and Assembly.

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Filed Under: Featured StoriesPersonal Development

About the Author: William (Bill) Turley has one of the largest and most successful unpaid wages class action/PAGA law firms in California. He represented the workers in the Brinker vs. Superior Court case and regularly is asked to write amicus curie briefs before the California Supreme Court in unpaid wages cases. Bill is known as the go-to lawyer at the California State Capital for consulting on unpaid wages legislation. Bill regularly testifies before the California State Senate and Assembly.

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