What does a labor lawyer do?
Labor and employment law governs the relationships between employers and employees. Generally, labor and employment lawyers represent either employers (referred to as “management”) or employees (individually or collectively). A labor and employment practice can include:
Counseling and compliance – Employers must comply with federal laws administered and enforced by the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employers must also comply with state law and regulations and other federal and state agencies. Labor and employment lawyers assist their clients in developing policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these laws, including those governing workplace safety and health, union activity, wages, equal employment opportunity, family and medical leave, and hiring, termination and layoffs.
Employment dispute and litigation – Employment litigation attorneys represent clients in state and federal courts in a wide variety of lawsuits involving discrimination, wrongful discharge, wage-hour violations, family and medical leave, and other employment-related claims.
Labor relations – Labor lawyers assist either management or labor union clients in all aspects of collective-bargaining agreements, provide advice and counsel in all states of the grievance and arbitration processes, advise in contract administration issues, and provide counsel on strikes and work stoppages. On the management side, labor lawyers defend corporations in actions brought by labor unions in matters relating to the National Labor Relations Act and other statutory and state law claims.
ERISA and employee benefits – The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established pension and health plans in the private sector to protect employees’ retirement benefits. As a general matter, ERISA practices are transactional in nature, and ERISA attorneys will have expertise in tax law. This practice area is highly complex, and some lawyers specialize only in ERISA.
What skills do I need to be a labor lawyer?Labor and employment lawyers must have excellent interpersonal skills because this practice is client-centered. In addition to litigating disputes in court, labor and employment lawyers will actively counsel or advise clients in writing and in person. Some labor and employment lawyers may even take an active role in training employees of an organization to ensure compliance with applicable law. Labor and employment lawyers must have excellent writing and critical reading and thinking skills because they will write or review employment contracts, human resource policies and other documents concerning the employment relationship. The ability to negotiate also is a key skill for labor and employment lawyers, as employment disputes often may be resolved through mediation or arbitration.
What kinds of jobs are available for labor lawyers?
Labor and employment lawyers work in small and large law firms and in corporate law departments as in-house counsels. They also work in general counsel offices of federal agencies, labor unions, and federal and state enforcement agencies such as the Department of Labor, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
What courses should I take?Employment Law • Employment Discrimination Law • Labor Law • Business Organizations • Administrative Law • Maryland Administrative Law • Interviewing, Negotiating, and Counseling • Trial Advocacy • Saul Ewing Civil Advocacy Clinic
What co-curricular and volunteer activities should I consider?
In addition to seeking externships with federal or state agencies that regulate employment and labor practices, you should also consider an externship at firms with employment or labor law practices. The law school also sponsors the Robert F. Wagner National Labor & Employment Law Moot Court Team and the ABA Labor and Employment Law Litigation trial team.
Who should I talk to for more information?