After graduating from law school, attorneys will choose a specialization where they will practice law. Some will venture toward prosecuting criminal cases, while others might become public defenders, representing those who cannot afford a private firm.
If interested in the human resources and professional workforce fields, an aspiring attorney might choose to look into becoming an employment attorney. Focusing on the issues that stem from an employee/employer relationship, employment attorneys representing their clients understand the law as it relates to labor and fair practice.
What Does an Employment Attorney Do?
The job description of an employment attorney isn’t much different from any other legal expert. Employment attorneys will provide legal advice on a number of different laws that relate to wages, workplace safety, the amount of time given during breaks, harassment, disability, and termination.
Typically, employment attorneys will gain experience in jury-decided trials, both in civil and criminal proceedings. They will have hands-on experience representing clients in proceedings involving business litigation, and discrimination cases should also fall under their history.
Employment lawyers are familiar with laws at federal, state, and local levels. Due to the specific nature of employment laws at each level, it’s common for employment attorneys to specialize in only a few areas.
Areas of Specialization
Employment attorneys are hired to represent their clients in cases that deal with any of the following:
- Sexual harassment
- Safety in the workplace
- Wrongful dismissal or termination
- Overtime and standards according to wages
- Issues related to workers’ compensation
- Rights to privacy
- Discrimination based on any of the following: disability, marital status, race, religion, age, sexual orientation, or gender
- Employee benefits, such as retirement plans or taking leaves of absence
Attorneys specializing in employment can look over contracts related to hiring for careers, give clients advice about legal action to take regarding employment policies and procedures, and representation when a civil case is brought against an employer.
Attorneys will create a link between employer and employee when handling legal issues, such as collective bargaining agreements. They can also advise employers on how to properly create workplace procedures without getting themselves into potential legal situations as a result of poorly written legal copy. If the situation calls for it, employment attorneys can defend against local or state governments as well as administrative boards.
As an attorney, employment lawyers should be highly skilled if they are going to be successful. Expert writing and communication abilities are a must, and self-management is needed if deadlines for clients are to be met in a timely manner. A mind for analysis is an essential tool, as lawyers need to be able to find the means to defend their clients under the existing laws.
Becoming an Employment Attorney
Like all other attorneys, employment lawyers must go through a strict educational regiment before practicing law on their own. To begin, high school must be completed, and upon entering a university, a total of seven years will be spent studying at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Most of the time, a state will issue a Juris Doctor degree (J.D.), which means the school is recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) as meeting the necessary national standards for a law school.
Before law school, a bachelor’s degree is required from an accredited college or university. Aspiring employment attorneys could choose to study public speaking, English, history, or economics. They could also look for a dedicated pre-law program, which is tailored for future lawyers and contains all the essential undergraduate courses for an academic career in law.
As undergraduates approach their bachelor’s degree, they will take the Law School Admission Test, also known as the LSAT. This standardized test measures the capability of future law students and their existing knowledge of legal subject material.
Law School and Beyond
Upon entering law school, future employment lawyers will select employment as their area of specialization. Law school typically lasts for three years before a J.D. is issued.
After receiving a degree, new prospective lawyers will prepare to take a licensing exam commonly known as “the bar.” Any lawyer who plans to practice in a given state will need to be licensed under the state’s bar. Requirements are different for each state, but common practice is for a new lawyer to pass at least one bar exam. A state board will then issue their approval for a license to be granted.
Any history of criminal conduct, substance abuse, or felonies will most likely disqualify someone from admission into the bar. If a lawyer is interested in practicing in more than one state, they will need to take the exams for each state where they intend to practice.
Upon graduating, lawyers are advised to keep their mind on current affairs and trends in law. Most of the time, state bars require continuing education and passing additional exams every few years. The course topics in continuing education courses tend to focus on legal ethics, healthcare, and tax fraud.
Working as an Attorney
Employment attorneys and other lawyers will usually start out as a team member with a more experienced lawyer. After working under the guidance of more qualified lawyers, associates may have the opportunity to become partners in a firm, meaning they now partially own the practice. It’s also common for anyone who does not advance to be forced out and find work somewhere else.
After several years of practicing, employment attorneys may earn the opportunity to open up their own firm. While not common, firms can directly hire a few exceptional in-house attorneys. Another option for employment attorneys is representation of a larger corporation. Many larger companies have entire legal departments, and the wording of contracts requires multiple attorneys on staff at all times to evaluate the wording of agreements.
Attorney Job Functions
The day-to-day duties of an employment attorney resemble those of other lawyers. They will advise clients in and out of court, as well as in front of any government bodies where hearings are necessary. Research and analysis is a major portion of the job, as laws must be interpreted to favor a lawyer’s client.
Employment attorneys will distribute the facts of a case to their clients as well as others, and make arguments designed to favor the case for their side. All legal documentation, including deeds, appeals, contracts, and lawsuits will be carefully prepared and file on their clients’ behalf.
Along with individuals and companies, employment attorneys can represent any of the following groups:
- Nonprofit organizations
- Government counsel
Employment Attorney Salary
The average annual salary for all attorneys in the United States in May 2017 was $141,890. This number can vary greatly depending on the area of the country and the industry of specialization in which each lawyer practices.
For example, lawyers in Washington D.C. averaged a salary of $189,560 per year, while Connecticut attorneys saw salaries of $152,540. In other categories, lawyers in scheduled air transportation earned an average salary of $217,410, and their peers in computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing took in average earnings of $200,530.
Employment Outlook for Attorneys
There is no shortage of job openings predicted for all lawyers, including employment attorneys. A growth of 8% is forecast for 2016-2026, which is on par with the rest of the national average job growth.
One issue that may arise is the need for legal firms to consider the amount of staff they retain. Work that had previously been assigned to fully licensed lawyers might now be given off to paralegals and legal assistants, who can perform the same duties for a fraction of the cost.
On top of this, routine legal work can be outsourced to overseas jobs, where the cost of basic legal documentation can be performed for an even smaller price.
Although there is a predicted increase in jobs for attorneys, the rising number of graduates from law schools will make the competition for these openings even stronger. Law school graduates who cannot find placement in a firm or company may opt for staffing firms which find temporary positions before a suitable full-time position is available.
With such fierce competition, it would benefit aspiring employment attorneys to be open for relocation. A new opening might come in another state, and with it, the necessity to pass an additional bar exam. Lawyers who have issues finding full-time employment with a firm can turn to self-employment and eventually start their own firm.
Practicing as an Employment Attorney
Once an employment attorney secures a spot with a firm, they can look forward to a career of representing their clients and arguing in favor of the side of the law which benefits their side. Employment attorneys can find opportunities in just about any industry – it sounds obvious, but every company hires people, and with this in mind, there will always be a need for a skilled employment attorney.
Has all of this information inspired you to consider a career as an employment attorney? You might be surprised at the amount of law programs available, and if the salary tempts you to start a new life, the entire country has the potential to be your new workplace!