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Employment Law: General

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Employment Law
General

Employment lawyers can be found in all sectors of the industry. In the private sector, there are employment law boutiques (some quite large like Littler, Mendelson or Jackson, Lewis), solo practitioners, and departments in large, national firms. In government, employment lawyers work for the state and federal government agencies that enforce employment laws and regulations, such as the Department of Labor or the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), bringing claims on behalf of the agency or investigating and mediating workplace disputes, as is the case with investigators who work for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Still other government lawyers, like those in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, defend federal agencies against claims filed by government employees and counsel the agencies with respect to compliance with employment laws.

Few public interest [...]

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Employment lawyers can be found in all sectors of the industry. In the private sector, there are employment law boutiques (some quite large like Littler, Mendelson or Jackson, Lewis), solo practitioners, and departments in large, national firms. In government, employment lawyers work for the state and federal government agencies that enforce employment laws and regulations, such as the Department of Labor or the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC), bringing claims on behalf of the agency or investigating and mediating workplace disputes, as is the case with investigators who work for California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Still other government lawyers, like those in the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, defend federal agencies against claims filed by government employees and counsel the agencies with respect to compliance with employment laws.

Few public interest organizations specialize solely in employment law, but most direct legal services organizations provide assistance to indigent clients to resolve workplace issues. Impact litigation organizations like the ACLU or Legal Momentum may also represent employees in class action discrimination cases.

Choosing Sides: Defense or Plaintiffs’ Practice

Employment lawyers typically represent either the defendant employer or the employee(s) on the plaintiff side. To some extent this is to avoid conflicts of interest, but it’s more than that. Employment cases can be highly charged and emotional and clients, both employees and corporations, want to know that their lawyer’s views are completely aligned with theirs. Consequently, it is extremely rare for an attorney to handle both defense and plaintiffs' work.

The Defense Side: Employment lawyers representing corporate clients handle a broad range of issues, including hiring and promotion practices, whistle-blower claims, contractual disputes, and discrimination and retaliation claims. Although initially attorneys at defense-side firms will spend most of their time on litigation assignments, as they become more experienced, their practice often evolves into a combination of litigation and counseling.

Counseling services include helping corporate clients develop and adopt personnel policies, prepare employee handbooks, and handle compliance issues like employee privacy and proper employee classification (i.e., is the worker an employee or an independent contractor, exempt or non-exempt). It also increasingly involves training clients in how to reduce workplace claims and act as legally and ethically responsible employers. The more guidance an employment lawyer gives clients with respect to developing and implementing employee policies in areas like discrimination and harassment, the less vulnerable the client will be to claims of unfair practices or violations of employment statutes.

For those who prefer more of a counseling than a litigation practice, working within a corporation may be an option after at least four or five years of practice at a defense-side firm. "In-house" employment attorneys manage day-to-day legal compliance issues, prepare employment agreements, policies and handbooks, provide advice on immigration and cross-border issues, and oversee litigation matters that are being handled primarily by outside counsel.

The Plaintiff Side: Plaintiffs’ lawyers protect the rights of employees in the workplace. They bring claims against employers for unlawful discrimination, harassment and other types of conduct that violates the civil rights of employees. For example, it is unlawful to retaliate against an employee who blows the whistle on illegal conduct, or against one who opposes or reports discrimination. Plaintiffs’ lawyers represent employees who may fear or experience retaliation by a boss, a supervisor, or even a coworker.

Practice on the plaintiffs’ side is primarily a litigation practice and is less likely to evolve into compliance counseling unless it is a LABOR LAW practice and the client group includes labor unions. Plaintiffs’ lawyers may provide some counseling to their clients – for example, regarding the relative merits of settling a wrongful termination or discrimination claim or accepting a severance package with a release of claims. Their principal focus, however, is in advancing their client’s claims through litigation or the threat of litigation.

Many employment lawyers who focus solely or primarily on the plaintiffs’ side work in small law firms. The big firms doing plaintiffs’ work are fewer in number and typically handle class action cases, such as those alleging discrimination against a large group of workers or, more recently, making wage and hour claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act and related state laws.

 
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