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The Life and Career ofSamuel Estreicher, Professor, New York University School of Law

( 13 votes, average: 4.5 out of 5)
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Estreicher is an expert at juggling tasks. As the head of New York University's Center for Labor and Employment Law, Estreicher teaches several courses while maintaining a caseload through Jones Day, where he is Of Counsel in the firm's Issues & Appeals and Labor & Employment practice groups.

A prolific writer, Estreicher says the blend of academia and private practice is a perfect fit for his interests. Estreicher's interest in labor preceded his interest in law. The son of a factory worker, Estreicher knew he wanted a career in labor relations, but he wasn't sure in what capacity. After college, he attended the Cornell School of Labor and Industrial Relations and took his first law course. After earning his master's degree, he enrolled in law school.


"What turns me on about the law to this day is that you work with ideas, but you're also very practical," he said from his office at NYU. "You solve problems working in litigation and negotiation. It's the combination of ideas and practical stuff making things happen, which is very exciting."

Labor unions in the United States are in serious trouble with decreasing membership and power, and the organizations need to create a new role for themselves, Estreicher said.

"We have to do something about the litigation system. There's been this movement on the company side for arbitration; so there might be opportunities for lawyers in arbitration," he said. "We're using the ordinary courts for employment disputes, which is done nowhere else in the world. It's very expensive. And what that means is that claimants cannot get lawyers. Claimants cannot get lawyers, and most claimants feel separated from the process. Historically, this is what unions did."

Estreicher, who also co-directs NYU's Institute of Judicial Administration and is secretary of the Labor and Employment Law Section of the American Bar Association, said labor unions need to find a way to become more relevant.

"I think it's a big challenge to figure out a new role for unions. I think it's still a case that workers need representation," he said. "What we've done now—because of the decline in unions in part—we rely more on lawsuits. And the problem with lawsuits is because they're done after the fact, they can't do anything to fix the relationship."

Estreicher, who is also on the boards of two theater groups in New York and hopes to find time to write plays one day, said young attorneys need to become better writers. He recommends that all attorneys and law students buy and study a copy of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White.

"I work a lot with young lawyers, and they need to work on their writing," he said, adding that he learned a lot about writing while working on his master's thesis and editing the Columbia Law Review.

"Writing is extremely important; so that's one thing. And two, I tell my students [to] never park their common sense at the door. They've got to start believing in themselves, and they've got to start believing in their instincts because, ultimately, they're going to be paid for their instincts," he said.

Too many young lawyers doubt their instincts and act like "automatons," he said. Estreicher calls his common sense theory Holmes 101, in honor of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the oft-quoted former associate Supreme Court Justice.

Estreicher's third bit of advice for young attorneys is not to focus too much on the race to make partner in a firm, but to build a solid and dependable reputation for excellence.

"They shouldn't just be saying to themselves, 'I'm just here for two years; I'll put in the number of hours that people want me to put in, and then that's the end of it,'" he said. "They should be saying to themselves, 'This is my name; this is my product. I'm going to take pride in it.' They should try to befriend everyone. I tell my students, and I tell all the young lawyers at Jones Day every person they meet—I don't care if it's the janitor—it could be a future client. Treat people as future clients."

Estreicher clerked for a judge on the DC Circuit for a year after law school and then spent a year in private practice before clerking for Lewis F. Powell, Jr., on the Supreme Court. When Judge John Roberts was nominated for the Supreme Court, Estreicher wrote an article for the website beliefnet.org, predicting Roberts would likely mark a shift to the right for the court, but not a seismic shift. When asked who he thought would be the next judge nominated to the court, Estreicher predicted U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. (Estreicher teaches a course in Supreme Court practice and has an appellate practice through Jones Day.)

Writing is a passion for Estreicher, not a professional obligation. He's been a tenured professor since 1984 and has already lived the publish-or-perish years. He has published several books, including leading casebooks in labor law and employment discrimination.

"I could get away with doing the absolute minimum, but I don't do the minimum. I'm trying to add value to myself," he said. "That's one of the reasons I love teaching, I get to write a lot. Plus, I like to shoot my mouth off; so I'm in the right job. If you write, you make it a habit, and it gets easier for you."

Estreicher is keen on "adding value" and said the key to success is to always find a way to make a relationship more valuable, professional, and personal. And the best way to add value is to choose what interests you and develop an expertise, he said.

"Develop an area of specialty—whatever it is, whatever turns [you] on—and really become known in that area," he said, "because it's very important to have portable value in any relationship, even in a marriage."

New York University School of Law

    


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