What Employment/ Labor Lawyers Do
Employment lawyers handle all aspects of labor and employment law, ranging from protecting employees from unfair or discriminatory practices through helping organizations create employee policies that fall within legal guidelines.
They work for government agencies, independently or in firms directly serving clients, and also inside companies. Compared to other branches of law, labor law can be more complex at times, due to the amount research needed to prove or disprove a claim, the number of different laws that may apply, and the highly personal nature of the cases.
Who would enjoy a career in Employment and Labor Law?
Labor law has the potential to be emotionally rewarding for attorneys who represent clients that have been treated unjustly, so it’s can be an ideal branch of law for someone with more altruistic views.
At the same time, the litany of laws and government regulations can mean that an attorney is always having to brush up on different aspects of employment law. This makes it a good choice for someone who likes to be mentally-stimulated with unique cases and those who enjoy learning new things. Naturally, solid interpersonal skills are a key component of success in the career, as is the ability to think quickly and negotiate effectively.
Who mightn't like the career?
Due to the lengthy hours required of lawyers, it’s not always a good field for someone who needs more flexibility or better work/ life balance. It can also be tedious at times, particularly for those who spend their days creating workplace policies for companies or reviewing guidelines, so it may not be a good choice for someone who needs constant stimulation.
Lastly, when cases go to litigation, they’re often very emotionally-charged. This may make the field less desirable for someone who would rather be focused on transactions or clear-cut issues.
Admittance into an accredited university upon completion of entry exams is the first step in entering law. Quality institutions have rigorous requirements and competition for positions is fierce. A law degree is required in order to practice at any level above the rank of intern or summer associate in the US and Canada. In the UK and Australia, offerings such as the Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL) or the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), respectively, are available, which allow people with virtually any undergraduate degree to move into law. Each jurisdiction has further requirements, including a bar exam and licensure process.
Those who are aware they’d like to enter into a law career should plan early and apply for a summer associate or internship position while still in school, as the experience will help secure a long-term position after graduation.
- Harvard Law School’s “Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer”
- 10 tips for a strong legal internship interview
- Labor and Employment Law: A Career Guide
Moving into Employment and Labor Law from another career
It can be difficult to transition into employment law and law more broadly, simply because one must pass legal exams and participate in additional coursework. At the same time, some big firms appreciate diversity and take pride in amassing a staff with unique non-legal backgrounds, as these individuals are better prepared to understand the needs of each sector that is being represented by the firm.
Graduate / Associate
Role: Incoming lawyers are referred to as associates. Students who are interning may have the distinction of being called a “summer clerk” or “summer associate,” and those fresh from university will be called “first-year associates,” and so on. Lawyers typically hold the title of associate for somewhere between seven and ten years, depending on the firm. During this time, their job is to support the firm’s partners, generally by handling research and reviewing contracts. It’s worth noting that some firms have an “up or out” policy, meaning that if a lawyer is not on the tenure track and does not become a partner within the allotted time, they are asked to leave the firm.
Role: Generally speaking, the title of senior associate is offered to a lawyer around five years into practice, though each firm will have its own guidelines. During this phase, the senior associate is expected to behave as if he or she is a junior partner. Ownership of projects is expected and the individual should be an expert in the area he or she covers. Tasks of greater importance may be assigned to senior associates by the firm’s partners and senior associates will generally have junior associates they can delegate some of their work to. It’s while working as a senior associate that a lawyer demonstrates to the firm that he or she is an indispensable part of the firm and is already behaving as if a partner.
Role: Associates who have proven themselves and are managing some of their own clients as well as bringing in new clients are typically offered partnerships. The exception to this is firms that have “of counsel” positions, which is a promotion from associate for those not on the partner career track. When a lawyer is offered a partnership role, it’s generally an equity partnership in which the lawyer “buys in” to the practice and then earns a percentage of the profits. As part owner, he also gets a say in the firm’s business decisions. Some firms may offer non-equity partnerships and let their seasoned lawyers take a salary instead of being part owner.
It’s fairly rare for employment lawyers to travel unless they’re part of a large firm or represent large companies.
Entry Level: According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD $104,000 in the United States, £58,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$97,000 in Canada, and AU$78,000 in Australia.
Mid-Career: USD$121,077, £70,800, CAD$110,580, AU$113,943.
Experienced: USD$159,040, £74,340, CAD$121,250, AU$145,816.
Naturally, bonuses and profit sharing are a major part of a partner’s income. With additional payments, an experienced attorney can earn more than USD$307,000, £120,000, CAD$156,000, or AU$206,000.
Why Employment/ Labor Lawyers move on
The burnout rate is somewhat high for those trying to make it up the ladder in a larger law firm, particularly in the first couple of years. The ongoing stress and emotional weight of the position can also cause people to seek less-demanding careers. Like other areas, employment and labor law can become quite specialised, so employment lawyers may move on to broaden their skill set or be exposed to other areas of law.
For further reading, see “Why You Should (and Should Not) Quit the Practice of Law.”