June 25, 2013
As a new attorney you will be looking for your niche in the marketplace: the signature role that you can play for your clients. One area that has always been, and will certain remain, popular is provide guidance and opinions on various aspects of labor and employment law. Every business has “human resources” and managers of those businesses must understand, and comply with, a complex maze of federal and state laws and regulations that impact every corner of the workplace. Some of you may choose to specialize in employment law and, if you do, you’ll need to dig deeply into the extensive statutory and case law that has developed for all aspects of the employment relationship from recruiting and hiring at one end all the way through discipline and termination at the other end. If you find yourself working at a larger firm or inside a large corporate legal department you may end of focusing most of your attention on a particular group of issues such as advising on discrimination or harassment claims or responding to complaints that an employer action regarding discipline or termination was unfair and unlawful. However, if you are working on your own or in a small law firm or law department you’ll need to be more of a generalist who is knowledgeable enough about all of the potential issues to know when it’s time to bring in a specialist.
Learning how to become an effective counselor to the human resources, or “HR”, department of your clients requires, at least in my view, approaching the subject matter from several different angles. First of all, you’ll need to be familiar with each of the major federal statutes that create the boundaries of employment law practice such as the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This is far from a complete list of relevant and important federal laws; however, it’s a good starting point Of course, while federal laws have broad applicability you’ll also need to check on the laws of the states in which your clients are operating to see what, if any, additional requirements may apply. Second, you need to apply what you’ve learned about the statutory framework in a way that is aligned with the actual path of the employment relationship. So, for example, you’ll need to understand how the various federal and state laws come into play when recruiting and vetting prospective new employees and preparing and making offers to those applicants that appear to be the best fit for open positions. Finally, you’ll need to talk with the HR professionals working inside your clients to understand how they work and what they need from you in terms of input and support. This is an opportunity for you to get involved in designing compliance programs that will help you clients avert troubles in the first place.
Our clients continue to operating in challenging and uncertain times and decisions relating to human resources are a continuous issue for executives and managers. New forms of employment relationships are being forged and this creates additional pressure on business counselors like you to have the right answers and deliver them in ways that your clients can understand and apply. Our portfolio of Beyond the Bar video programs includes an entire series on The Things That Keep Human Resources Professionals Up at Night and I hope that you’ll find it to be a good place to start to get up to speed on assisting your clients with employment-related agreements and developing strong and practical compliance programs. In order to give you a taste of what you’ll need to know I’d also like to offer you a copy of the recently released FINDLAW Miniguide on HR Counseling