Employment lawyers generally handle disputes and lawsuits that are related to the workplace and affect the employer-employee relationship.
In this article, let’s dig deeper into the career of an employment lawyer.
- What Does an Employment Lawyer Do?
- What are the Responsibilities of An Employment Lawyer?
- What Does a Day-to-Day Look Like for An Employment Lawyer?
- What Educational Qualifications Do You Need To Be An Employment Lawyer?
- What Are the Skills Needed to Become an Employment Lawyer?
- The Pros of Being an Employment Lawyer
- The Cons of Being an Employment Lawyer
- The Employment Outlook for Employment Lawyers
- Average Earnings of an Employment Lawyer
- 3 Professional Organizations for Employment Lawyers
- How To Advance Your Career as an Employment Lawyer?
What Does an Employment Lawyer Do?
Employment law usually negotiates the relationships, deals, and conflicts between an employer and an employee. They usually tackle issues that are not under the scope of a union framework.
The job has its unique challenges, but it offers many opportunities for technical and personal growth for the lawyer.
Among the issues that employment lawyers usually tackle include enforcing guaranteed compensation under individual agreements, ensuring back-end compensation, racial and gender discrimination in the workplace, failure to pay minimum wages and overtime, illegal deductions, tip misappropriations, retaliation, and many more.
What are the Responsibilities of An Employment Lawyer?
Employment lawyers advise employers and employees in all aspects of employment, from hiring to termination. Their counsel can be conscientious or non-conscientious.
Conscientious advice involves representing and helping clients prepare for and go through the litigation process or even internal processes like disciplinary hearings.
Meanwhile, non-conscientious tasks usually involve providing day-to-day support to companies’ Human Resources departments, such as drafting, reviewing, and advising on employment contracts, employee policies, compensation and benefits policies, etc.
Employment lawyers advise on a variety of issues and cases that crop up in the workplace setting.
These can include — employee handbook provisions, compensation issues, workplace harassment, workplace discrimination, disciplinary action and termination, human resource practices and policies, reduction or retrenchment programs, restrictive covenants or confidentiality agreements, severance agreements, employee benefits like leaves and retirement plans, workplace investigations, drug and alcohol testing, waivers and releases, etc.
What Does a Day-to-Day Look Like for An Employment Lawyer?
You might be wondering what an employment lawyer does daily. According to a Harvard study, it can be very busy, especially as there are not many employment lawyers and a growing number of cases.
The day for an employment lawyer depends on the cases assigned, often one of two: defensive and affirmative cases.
Taking on affirmative cases means having to do investigations into common violations of labor laws. This would mean they have to research any possible illegal salary deductions, retaliation, and failure to pay minimum wage, among others.
While settlements are typical to avoid additional hassle and time investment, there is no choice but to go for litigation. When working in this field, a unique aspect is the “capacity to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and documents as part of the investigation”. A criminal process is done to enforce labor laws.
The defensive side, meanwhile, means working for the other side. In this case, a defensive case means working for the employers. Employees’ common complaints include labor law violations such as failure to provide a wage or minimum wage, among others. Other times, you would have to defend the state labor laws themselves, such as adding new portions of junk other portions.
What Educational Qualifications Do You Need To Be An Employment Lawyer?
To become an employment lawyer, you need to have the necessary educational qualifications to begin practicing for the law.
As with most work, you have to have completed an undergraduate degree to qualify for a more specialized education, in this case, law school. An undergraduate degree can usually be completed in four years, assuming there are no issues or delays on your part. Only then can you be eligible for law school, which usually takes around 3 years to complete.
Do note that before being accepted to law school, you often have to pass an entrance examination such as the Law School Admission Test or LSAT, which also requires specific undergraduate units, depending on your country or university.
Undergraduate courses that offer compatible units for the law are usually Political Science, Public Policy, English, and other writing and speaking courses.
Examinations could prove difficult for the average person, so it is advisable to give yourself some lead time to study. Due to its difficulty, several law exam tutorials and reviews are becoming available online, so consider this if you are having a hard time studying on your own.
After going through your undergraduate degree and passing the LSAT, you are ready for law school. Law school equips you with the necessary knowledge and industry know-how to do your job well.
Courses such as criminal and constitutional law and legal research and writing courses should be learned by heart if you want to stay long as a lawyer.
Law students, much like other courses, also have a mandatory internship or clinics as they are called, before being able to graduate. This provides you with the necessary practical knowledge to prepare you for your first real-world experience.
After seven years, give or take, of formal education, you still would not be able to practice right away.
Depending on which state or country you are in, you would have to pass the bar examination and get a license to practice legally.
These examinations also tend to be complicated. Some people even take several years to pass the test and finally be able to work. Due to its difficulty, you would also need a lot of preparation time to pass the test. Same with entrance examinations, tutorials and night school classes are also offered here and there and should be considered if you want to increase your chances of passing.
Considering how much an employment lawyer makes and the fulfillment that comes with standing up for people’s rights in the workplace, the difficulty is usually worth the effort.
What Are the Skills Needed to Become an Employment Lawyer?
Besides completing all the required steps in formal education, becoming an employment lawyer also demands specific skills. Here are the top five skills needed to become an effective employment lawyer:
1. Passion in Common Law and Domestic and Statutory Legislation
Which part of an employment lawyer’s work requires this skill? Pretty much everything. Knowing common law and domestic and statutory legislation and taking it to the heart is a must for everyone in this field.
Consider this the minimum skill required to practice. Not knowing common law and its nitty-gritty is a quick ticket for others to see through you and consider you incompetent.
While this skill is offered in school, you must always refresh yourself on these and keep yourself updated because they are susceptible to changes as time goes by.
2. Excellent Analytical Skills
Excellent analysis skills are required should you choose to pursue this career. This is a staple in any employment lawyer job description. A huge chunk of a lawyer’s work builds the case and sets up the necessary groundwork to win it.
This means working over vast amounts of records, both written and oral, video and written transcripts, and case documents. With such a huge amount of information, you need the necessary analytical skills to make sense of these and pave your way to a winning case.
Also, cases can go on for a long time, with critical information constantly being introduced and added along the way. This means employment lawyers must be good at changing tactics to push for the case they are making.
3. Good Oral and Written Communication
In any work you do, excellent oral and written communication is a must, but this is especially true for a lawyer.
What use can your prior knowledge or your analytical skills have if you cannot properly articulate them to the audience? All that content and work would be wasted if you cannot properly send the message across. This is why good oral and written communication is vital.
Oral communication is important for you to articulate your case to the judge and the jury. You need to have the wit and capability to deliver your thoughts and arguments precisely. It would be best if you also learned how to process large quantities of information and convey them briefly and effectively.
This not just means perfect grammar, everything from pronunciation and intonation is important. Emphasizing certain words and details is something you should strive toward for an effective presentation.
Written communication is also just as important because a lot of an employment lawyer’s work will be focused on writing. From case build-up to making your script, written communication is your way to achieve the needed accuracy and precision to win you the case.
If you have problems in either oral or written communication, you should consider honing them through practice or attending extra classes. Watching footage of peers and old cases is also a surprisingly effective way to teach you what good oral communication looks like.
4. Interpersonal Skills
Interpersonal skills are essential for this job. Not only should you foster good relationships with your peers through excellent interpersonal skills, but this is also useful when you are talking to clients.
Not all clients are the same. Some are very open with what they want to achieve, while others are more closed off, oftentimes refusing to divulge pieces of information. Good interpersonal skills mean you can effectively communicate with your client to have a more precise grasp of the case.
5. Time Management Skills
Last but not least is time management skills. This is a must to have for a lawyer because you would have many things to do, and you can easily be overwhelmed.
However, an overwhelmed lawyer is usually an ineffective one, so to avoid rushing through everything, coming unprepared, or simply drowning in things to do, good time management skills are required.
The Pros of Being an Employment Lawyer
1. The Human Aspect of the Job
What makes employment lawyers’ job intriguing and exciting is the human interest of their practice, which most other kinds of litigation do not have.
Employment cases are all about people and usually involve intriguing scenarios and stories. Cases like discrimination and harassment claims allow lawyers to see the complex relationships between people in the workplace.
2. Good Training Ground
Employment lawyers also have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients – organizations of all trades and industries employ people and require counsel.
Working with various businesses and industries allows lawyers to be better-rounded and more experienced in handling industry-specific situations. The ever-changing scenarios of their cases keep employment lawyers interested in their work even after years of practice. There is always an opportunity for growth.
The Cons of Being an Employment Lawyer
1. Laws Can Constantly Change
Employment lawyers should be able to quickly adapt to the constantly changing and evolving nature of employment law. Legislation related to the workplace is often dependent on the government’s policies and priorities.
Often, old laws are amended, many new laws are passed, and judges have different interpretations of the law and its details. The outcome of cases is always unpredictable. However, the dynamic nature of employment law assures employment lawyers of constantly being intellectually challenged.
2. Limited Areas of Employment and Improvement
While there are many companies across the world, not all of them need and can afford to hire an employment lawyer’s services.
Also, while there is such a thing as continuous learning, improvement in your certain field can only be made through increasing your experience and knowledge or honing your oral, written, and research skills. Aside from this, improvement is difficult.
If you are looking for something with a greater variety and not just law, then an employment lawyer as a career may not be the one for you. Lawyers always need to continue improving their base set of skills required for the job. There is not much variety when you are busy improving to compete with other lawyers with a high skill level.
The Employment Outlook for Employment Lawyers
Employment lawyers have a lot of employment options available to them. They can work for a private law firm, practice alone, work in the legal departments of private corporations or non-profit organizations, or work in government or public interest organizations to provide their legal services to employees.
Most large corporations hire and maintain their in-house employment lawyers, so there is much opportunity to work as a full-time lawyer for a specific company or organization.
According to recent data, it is reported that employment lawyers in the 90th percentile or higher earned around $208,000 per year on average. However, those in the bottom 10th percentile only made $58,220, a significant difference compared to employment lawyers in the 90th percentile.
Additionally, employment opportunities are said to grow fast from 2018 to 2028. As much as 6% job growth is expected for all lawyers in the next decade.
Average Earnings of an Employment Lawyer
So how much does an employment lawyer make? If you are pursuing this career path, you would be pleased to know that you would make a lot.
In the United States, an Employment Lawyer IV has a median salary of $178,373 as of January 29, 2021. On the low end, you would receive $112,261, while those on the high end can earn as much as $ 227,968 annually.
Do note that several factors can increase this average for you. Licenses, credentials, training, and other qualifications have a positive effect on salary. Education, specialization, your company, and your number of years in professional experience can all bump up your yearly earnings.
3 Professional Organizations for Employment Lawyers
The following are some of the Professional Organizations for employment lawyers to consider joining to have additional resources for your profession or new and valuable networks and contacts in this field. Professional organizations are not only good for their professional benefits, but they also make employment lawyers feel like they belong to something bigger than their individual practice.
1. National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA)
The National Employment Lawyers Association or NELA’s mission is “to empower workers’ rights attorneys through legal training, promoting a fair judiciary, and advocating laws and policies that level the playing field for workers”.
They aim to provide a platform and venue for employment lawyers to further expand their capabilities in the field, open up resources to enhance their skills, and contribute to networks, which is always a good thing to have.
2. National Employment Law Institute (NELI)
The National Employment Law Institute or NELI is an organization that provides “employment law seminars, teleconferences, and webinars” to open opportunities for continuous education for employment lawyers. The organization also aims to give employment lawyers the tools to improve their field further, remain relevant throughout the years, and build partnerships and networks with other employment lawyers.
They also provide other services such as in-house Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) training and services for consulting and testifying ADA expert witnesses. They have been providing their services since 1976.
3. American Bar Association, Section of Labor and Employment Law
The Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association provides many benefits for member employment lawyers. Among these are print and digital content of procedural legal issues suited to your needs.
They also provided you with the prime opportunity to connect with others who practice law near your area. This group has a ton of benefits for employment lawyers, and you should consider joining if you are looking for an organization that would suit your needs.
How To Advance Your Career as an Employment Lawyer?
1. Know and Embrace the Uniqueness of Employment Law
It would help if you had a good grasp on employment law to have any chance of progressing. This includes the ins and outs of the industry, which differentiates it from other law fields, among others. Knowing what makes employment law special allows you to prioritize what parts of you need improvement. And knowing the uniqueness and distinction of employment law is the first and the most vital step.
2. Hone Your Interpersonal Skills
When does an employee need an employment lawyer? Can you properly communicate to your client that other lawyers are more fit for the job? Interpersonal skills are essential to advance your career as an employment lawyer, or any career for that matter, especially those which deal with a lot of other people.
In this industry, the personal nature of cases means tempers can get out of hand fast. And with the variety of people in this world, a person with good interpersonal skills are immediately a cut above those who have problems navigating social norms and customs.
3. Grow Your Network
Your legal networks are a lifesaver and can be your pathway to better opportunities. Continuously grow your networks, avoid burning bridges when you can.
4. Know When to Ask for Help
Do not be too proud to ask for help. It is much better to swallow your pride and admit that you are confused about something than to act like you know everything. Being too proud to admit that you need help is a surefire way to cripple your career growth, especially if this leads to a huge blunder.
Connections are a huge part of this career, and you shouldn’t be shy to use them to your advantage. Can you ask someone for help because you are stuck with something? Please do so because it is one of the best ways to get out of a rut and improve your case.
5. Be Willing to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Stepping outside of comfort zones is a difficult task for anyone in this world. However, there is no growth if you always remain in your safe zone. This means only doing what you know and not deviating, which eventually leads to stagnation.
Step out of your comfort zone, learn a skill or two, build new networks and contacts.
Ultimately, a career in employment law can be very exciting and fulfilling. They will certainly encounter many challenges in their work line, but employment lawyers will never be bored by their cases and their day-to-day tasks. The nature of their work is dynamic and always interesting.