What Are Labor Lawyers?
Labor lawyers practice employment law, and they can represent either employers or employees. They work with clients in industries that have labor unions, such as education or law enforcement. These lawyers are experts on union rules and regulations and how they apply to employers and union members.
Labor lawyers frequently handle cases that deal with union creation, collective bargaining, and negotiations between unions and management. To resolve disputes, these attorneys may opt to file lawsuits or request out-of-court settlements. In other cases, they may sue the opposing party in court.
When Do You Need a Labor Lawyer?
Both employers and employees may need to consult with labor lawyers. If you're an employee, consider talking with a labor lawyer if:
- You need to file a lawsuit against your employer.
- You need to negotiate contract terms during a union strike.
- Your employer fired you on unreasonable grounds.
- Your employer refuses to provide severance pay.
If you're an employer, consider talking with a labor attorney if:
- You have reason to believe your employees are planning to strike.
- You intend to fire an employee who is a union member.
- A representative from a government agency has visited your company or contacted you for more information about an incident.
- An employee has filed or threatened to file a lawsuit accusing your business of hazardous work conditions, wrongful termination, or any type of mistreatment or discrimination.
Do You Always Have to Talk With a Labor Attorney Before Terminating an Employee?
No matter the situation, it's always in an employer's best interest to talk with a labor lawyer before firing a unionized employee. Even if you believe the employee has performed illegal actions or stolen from the company, you should always talk with a lawyer before moving forward with a termination.
Labor laws are complex, and few business owners have the time to understand their nuances. Because labor lawyers are experts in labor and employment law, they can assess your situation and advise you on how to proceed so that you protect yourself and your business. A labor attorney can advise you on what to do in these common situations:
- A job contract or union rules prevent you from firing an employee.
- The employee is a member of a protected class, and the termination could qualify as discrimination.
- The employee has filed an official complaint against your business with a local or federal agency.
- You have reason to believe the employee will take adverse action against you or your company as a result of the termination.
How Much Do Labor Lawyers Cost?
Before you hire a labor attorney, it's important to understand how much they charge and how they structure their rates so you can set appropriate expectations. Labor lawyers charge rates based on their experience level and their location. For example, a labor attorney who has 15 years of experience and who serves a city with a high cost of living may charge substantially more than a newer lawyer who serves a rural area with a lower cost of living.
Many labor lawyers charge hourly rates or monthly retainers, especially if you require their services regularly. Others may charge a fixed rate for a more well-defined project. Still, others may accommodate clients on a contingency basis, which means they charge a certain percentage of the settlement you receive.
How Are Labor Lawyers and Employment Lawyers Different?
Labor lawyers and employment lawyers handle similar issues, but these two types of attorneys have key differences. Employment lawyers represent nonunionized employers and employees. They typically deal with state and federal laws related to nonunion scheduling, overtime, wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and workers' compensation.
In contrast, labor lawyers deal primarily with federal and state labor laws, which apply to unionized employees and their employers. Most labor attorneys rely on legislation like the National Labor Relations Act to guide their cases and lawsuits. Here is an article about the National Labor Relations Act.
How Do You Find a Good Labor Lawyer?
To find a good labor lawyer who can support your case, follow these steps:
- Search a directory of lawyers and narrow your focus by your state. Even if you don't think you'll need to meet your attorney in person, it's important to find a legal expert who is licensed to practice in your state. If you want to find a lawyer who works in your area, narrow your search by city.
- Read each candidate's profile carefully to assess whether they're a good match for your situation. For example, if you're a union employee who was recently fired, you may want to look for a labor lawyer who has several years of experience representing employees and who has a strong track record of resolving wrongful termination cases.
- Make a list of the top two or three candidates who seem like the best fit. Since different attorneys may take very different approaches to legal issues, it's in your best interest to consider at least two perspectives and potential outcomes.
- Request a consultation with your top candidates. Most labor lawyers offer free consultations, which give you an opportunity to explain the basics of your case and receive a professional opinion. During your free case evaluation, ask how strong your case seems to be and what range of outcomes you might be able to expect. Then compare the answers you receive and consider the attorney with the most appealing response.
- Clarify the lawyer's rate. Before committing to working with a law firm, make sure you understand what the rate is and how the firm charges. An hourly rate may be reasonable for smaller cases or retainer agreements. However, a flat rate or a contingency fee may be more affordable for a complex or lengthy case.
- Confirm the case's timeline. Perhaps your case is approaching its statute of limitations, or you're concerned about an employee's threat. If your situation is relatively urgent, it's important to confirm that the law firm can take on your case immediately. Even if your case isn't an emergency, it's essential to know when the legal proceedings can move forward and when you might be able to expect a resolution.
How Do You Become a Labor Lawyer?
Labor lawyers need several years of post-secondary education and a state license to work in the legal field. To work as a labor attorney, follow these steps:
- Get a bachelor's degree. Before attending law school, students have to earn an undergraduate degree, typically with a major like philosophy, history, English, or political science.
- Go to law school. Aspiring lawyers have to complete three years of law school, resulting in a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Law schools must be accredited by the American Bar Association.
- Pass the bar exam . All attorneys have to pass their state's bar exam before practicing law. Lawyers who practice in multiple states must pass all relevant exams.
- Gain work experience. Most attorneys begin their careers as associates, where they work alongside experienced lawyers. After a few years of experience, they may have an opportunity to become a partner in their law firm.
- Join a specialized network. Many labor lawyers become members of the National Employment Lawyers Association or the American Bar Association's Section of Labor and Employment Law.
Here is a link with additional information about working as a labor attorney.
Whether you're an employee or an employer, a labor lawyer can help you exercise your rights or protect yourself or your business. Find a labor lawyer in your area and get in touch with a legal professional today.